60 — that's right, 60 — curling teams are competing in this week's Grand Slam
Worldwide field rolls into Thunder Bay, Ont., for Tour Challenge
THUNDER BAY, Ont. — Curling fans in this northern Ontario community are in for all the rock throwing and sweeping they can handle this week as teams from across the world hit the pebbled ice looking to capture the Tour Challenge.
The third stop on this season's Grand Slam of Curling circuit features the largest field of any bonspiel on the schedule.
Sixty — that's right, 60 — teams are competing.
It's non-stop curling. There are four daily draws, with each filling up 10 sheets spread across two larger ice rinks right beside one another inside the Tournament Centre.
The teams are split into two tiers of competition. On the Tier 1 side, the top 15 men's and women's teams according to the World Curling Tour's Order of Merit standings are competing.
The usual curling characters at the top of the list are here: Rachel Homan, Brad Gushue, Jennifer Jones, Kevin Koe, Casey Scheidegger, Nik Edin and many more have the locals buying up tickets to see them. Event passes have been sold out for months, though there are still tickets available for individual draws.
There are three pools of five teams in both the men's and women's tournaments. The top eight teams make the playoff round, with the championship games being played on Sunday. The Tier 1 champions take home $25,000 and earn spots in the Champions Cup to finish the Slam season.
So far this season, Gushue and John Epping have collected Slam wins on the men's side, while Anna Hasselborg has captured both women's Slams. Hasselborg is not in Thunder Bay this week, opening up the door for another women's team to get its first win of the season.
Some of the best up-and-coming curling teams in Canada and internationally make up the Tier 2 division, which also features both a men's and women's tournament.
While winning some cash is key for Tier 2 teams, who don't garner the sponsorship dollars of many of the elite rinks, there's another prize worth more than money could buy.
The winning men's and women's teams in the Tier 2 division will also get to play in the Champions Cup, right alongside the top teams. So winning in Thunder Bay allows these lesser-known rinks to catapult into the upper echelon of the curling ranks.
The Tier 2 tournaments include 10 men's and 10 women's teams that are further down the world rankings, and the rest of the field is drawn from the Thunder Bay region.
They follow the same playoff format as the Tier 1 division, with the top eight teams advancing to the playoff round and the championships played on Sunday.
The next stop on the Slam schedule comes a month from now in Conception Bay South, NL.