Eight Ends is your source for news, insight and analysis from the Grand Slam of Curling. This edition features takeaways from the Princess Auto Players’ Championship. We’d also tip our hat to Gushue after that shot for the win.

FIRST END: Having skip Brad Gushue draw to the four-foot circle for the win is usually part of the plan for his St. John’s, N.L., team. Having Gushue draw to the four-foot circle through a trio of counters and needing to bounce off one and slam the brakes in time for the win with an electric crowd at historic Maple Leaf Gardens cheering you on, well, that’s like turning your amp up to 11.

But that’s precisely what Gushue pulled off to earn his 15th career Grand Slam of Curling men’s title after edging Team Joël Retornaz 7-6 during Sunday’s Princess Auto Players’ Championship men’s final at the packed Mattamy Athletic Centre.

It was an impeccable way for Gushue to cap the season by winning the title at one of his favourite events following a disappointing silver finish at the world championship the week prior.

“Right down to the last second, I had to look up on the screen to see if it was going to stop in time,” Gushue said. “I was surprised it slid that far but what a way to finish. It was a perfect ending when you look at how we lost the world championship. To turn around and win the Players’ Championship in the exact same fashion was pretty cool.”

After going 3-2 through pool play, Gushue had quite possibly the toughest playoff path ever needing to beat three of the top five ranked teams in the world (that top five also includes Gushue, who entered the week No. 4). Gushue knocked off Scotland’s Team Ross Whyte and Team Bruce Mouat (who scored a win over the Canadian club in the round-robin) before taking on Retornaz in the final. That’s what makes the Princess Auto Players’ Championship one of the toughest events on tour and all the more satisfying to win.

The summer break will be short but at least now it’ll be sweet.

“There’s only one team that can finish like that on the men’s side and fortunately for us, it’s our second win at the Players’, so you finish off the season with a win and you get to sit on that,” Team Gushue third Mark Nichols said. “We’ll enjoy the next few weeks, take a break, get recharged and then start planning for next season.”

SECOND END: The Princess Auto Players’ Championship served as redemption as well for Team Silvana Tirinzoni. The Swiss squad finished runners-up to Rachel Homan’s team in back-to-back Grand Slam finals and again in the world championship gold medal game. Tirinzoni topped Homan during Saturday’s semifinals with a steal in the eighth end that set up a meeting with Sweden’s Team Isabella Wranå for the women’s title.

Again, the redemption storyline played out as Wranå beat Tirinzoni in last year’s Players’ Championship women’s final. The final score was the same, 6-5, only the places on the scoreboard were reversed.

It’s the fourth career Grand Slam title for Tirinzoni, first at the Princess Auto Players’ Championship, and vice skip Alina Pätz called the title victory “indescribable.”

“We work so hard all season and to finish the season like that is crazy for us,” Pätz said. “We lost so many finals this year, so it’s for sure nice to win this.”

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THIRD END: When Gushue captured his first Players’ Championship title in 2016 and was No. 1 in the world, Retornaz was ranked 92nd. What a difference eight years can make and what an incredible season this was for Retornaz and his Italian club. Retornaz only made his Grand Slam of Curling debut two years ago in the Princess Auto Players’ Championship but was playing in Sunday’s final as a four-time champ looking to rewrite the record books.

Retornaz won the HearingLife Tour Challenge, KIOTI National and WFG Masters consecutively to start 2023-24 and no team in series history has won four in the series in a single season.

They show their passion after making great shots — they’re downright a photographer’s delight — but it’s also the simple gestures too that one might not notice that garner them admiration from their opponents such as when Retornaz got Gushue’s final rock ready by the hack. It’s also cool to see fans in the stands join the bandwagon and also sport Donut Media’s Trucks hat.

Retornaz exceeded all expectations this season finishing as No. 1 in the world rankings and his team is on track with the Olympic Winter Games in his backyard in two years.

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FOURTH END: Homan’s heartbreaking loss to Tirinzoni in the semifinals shouldn’t take anything away from the unbelievable season her team had. The Canadian club won just about every event they competed in this season highlighted with back-to-back Grand Slam titles, a Scotties Tournament of Hearts title and a world championship gold medal.

Homan posted a 67-7 record (.905 PCT) that’s jaw-dropping on its own but moreso when you realize no other world championship-winning team over the past decade has even come close to reaching that mark. Even Homan’s previous dominant world championship-winning season in 2016-17 ended at 76-19, or a .798 pace. Simply put, this was a season for the ages.

Tracy Fleury joined the team at third last season, while initially handling skip duties, as Emma Miskew and Sarah Wilkes shifted down to second and lead, respectively. That’s a huge adjustment for any team yet they won a Grand Slam championship and reached another final then captured a second title in the series after the skip reins were handed back to Homan. After seeing how they now perform all finely tuned in year two, not even the sky but the galaxy’s the limit for this team.

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FIFTH END: Gushue and Retornaz weren’t the only ones who arrived straight from the world championship in Switzerland to the Princess Auto Players’ Championship in Toronto. Team Mouat, Team Niklas Edin and Team Yannick Schwaller also made the trek across the pond.

As mentioned earlier, Mouat fell to Gushue in the semis while the now seven-time world champ Edin reached the quarterfinals, losing to Retornaz. Schwaller was the only one of the five who didn’t make the playoffs as his Swiss squad just missed the cut at 2-3. For those concerned fatigue would be a factor, it didn’t prevent them too much from putting on a performance.

SIXTH END: Jennifer Jones waved goodbye to the fans on Friday night after playing her final game in the Grand Slam of Curling. We knew this moment was going to come as Jones announced in February she would be retiring at the end of the season, but it doesn’t really hit until it happens.

Jones and her team from Winnipeg/Altona, Man., missed the playoffs after losing 7-6 to Anna Hasselborg’s Swedish squad during the final round-robin draw to finish pool play with a 1-4 record. Even if Jones had won, a playoff berth wasn’t guaranteed as her team would have played Kerri Einarson’s club from Gimli, Man., in a tiebreaker.

The emotions started pouring earlier in the week. After Satsuki Fujisawa’s team defeated Jones 9-4 Wednesday night, the Japanese club presented her with a gift bag and many hugs and tears were shared.

“She is our idol,” Team Fujisawa third Chinami Yoshida said. “When we came here, we talked about why we wanted to come to the last Grand Slam, we really wanted to see Jones. This is her last [event], so we are really glad we got to play against Team Jones.”

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This isn’t a forever goodbye as Jones will continue playing mixed doubles with husband Brent Laing and will also be involved behind the scenes with the Grand Slam of Curling (more on that in the next end). Jones reached several peaks in the curling mountain range as an Olympic gold medallist, two-time world champion, six-time Canadian champion and 10-time Grand Slam of Curling title winner. Now she writes a new chapter influencing the future of the sport off the ice.

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SEVENTH END: The Princess Auto Players’ Championship also marked the end of 12-year run for the Grand Slam of Curling under Sportsnet ownership. It was announced ahead of the tournament that The Curling Group, a new venture backed by elite international curlers, had acquired the series. Sportsnet will continue as the exclusive Canadian broadcast rights-holder for the long-term.

The Curling Group features former PointsBet Canada COO Nic Sulsky; sports, media and entertainment industry veteran Mike Cotton; two-time Olympic curling gold medallist John Morris and former NFL defensive end Jared Allen, who has dedicated himself to curling since retiring from football and is aiming to make the U.S. Olympic team. Jones is also involved as a strategic advisor.

The Grand Slam of Curling saw major changes over the past 12 years with Sportsnet adding not only more events, but also ensuring women’s teams were included in all tournaments with equal prize money split across both divisions. Sportsnet was also on board with the series implementing innovations such as the five-rock rule and no-tick zone, both of which are now standards across the sport. The Curling Group is looking to build on that foundation and take the Grand Slam of Curling to the next level.

Skip Mike McEwen is among those who is excited to see the direction The Curling Group takes and said it “might take just a slight bit of crazy” and a number of years to achieve.

“It will take a big investment in time and money and a little bit of outside-the-box ideas to take this and evolve this into something that we as players would love to see it garner the attention it deserves,” McEwen said. “Sportsnet and Rogers have done a great job over the last however years, it’s a lot, but I think we’re in the right place and the right time for a different take, a different look at it.

“I think in this situation we need someone to take maybe a little bit of a risk to take the sport to what it can be and that can be scary. I think the sense that I’m getting is they’re willing to take that scary risk and that’s not for everyone. … If curling is going to take the chance of being what it can be, that is the kind of thinking it’s going to take. I’m all for it and hopefully in two, three, five years we’re like, ‘Wow, this was a pivotal moment in the sport.’”

EIGHTH END: Is it October yet? The Grand Slam of Curling returns in the fall with the HearingLife Tour Challenge kicking off the 2024-25 campaign, Oct. 1-6, at the Bell Aliant Centre in Charlottetown. What a way to begin the season with the largest event on the circuit featuring 64 teams — 32 men’s teams and 32 women’s teams — split into two tiers.



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