For those of us that cover the sport of curling, the 2019 Canada Cup was expected to be the first true “litmus test” for Canada’s elite men’s and women’s curling teams as they competed against each other in a format that best replicates the Olympic Trials and with a spot in the 2021 Roar of the Rings on the line. I’m not sure that the 2019 Canada Cup is an event that people will remember in a few months, but it certainly had its share of good, bad and interesting.
Team Homan… The three-time Scotties champions certainly proved that they remain one of the more dominant curling teams in the world, especially when their skip is making shot likes she was in Leduc. It hasn’t always been easy for Team Homan this season, they played well in their first few events but were mediocre at best in the season’s first two Slams. Some critics of Team Homan were already whispering that perhaps motherhood would be too much of a distraction for the new moms on the team and that perhaps Team Homan’s best days were already behind them. All Team Homan did at the Canada Cup last week was go 6-1 against the other top women’s teams in Canada with Rachel Homan, curling’s most famous new mom, shooting 86% and making key shots throughout the week.
John Epping… An elite curler for years, Epping had never had a breakthrough victory at one of Curling Canada’s men’s events. With the help of a new lineup that many questioned when it was first announced, Epping played well in the round-robin and reached the playoffs where he defeated last year’s two Brier finalists, Team Koe and Team Bottcher. The turning point of the final may have been the second end when Team Epping scored three points after Team Koe had taken early control of the game by scoring two points in the opening end. As Team Epping’s Brent Laing told FTH:
“Responding with the three-ender after giving up the deuce was huge for us. That being said, we’re not a team that is going to panic and we realize that we don’t have to respond with a big end right away to have a chance to win the game. The three-ender changed the momentum of the game though, which was great for us.”
Tracy Fleury… There is no way to sugarcoat it, most of Team Fleury struggled in Leduc but Tracy Fleury made key shots all week that helped her team finish second in the round-robin standings. Fleury did not have her best game against Team Homan in the final, but that should not take away from what was an excellent week for the skip from Sudbury. Despite her team’s struggles in the final, Fleury told FTH that her team wasn’t nervous, in part because of experience gained throughout this season:
“We have had the opportunity to play in 5 finals this year which has helped us become more comfortable in those high-pressure games. We learn something every final we play in and it has been making us stronger as a team and more confident.”
Chelsea Carey… The reigning Scotties champion has a history of playing her best at Curling Canada events. She had a 12-5 record in the past two Olympic Trials, losing in the final in 2017 and losing a tiebreaker in 2013. Even more impressive is her record at the Scotties where she is 41-13 overall including two titles, and two third-place finishes in four appearances. Although the Canada Cup has not historically been as kind to Carey as the Olympic Trials or the Scotties, she was a combined 6-13 in her last three appearances at the event, her team certainly played well in Leduc, handing Team Homan their only loss of the week while going 4-2 in the round-robin and losing to Team Fleury in the semi-final.
Curling Canada… The national federation took an important step forward when it announced during the Canada Cup that the prize money at both the Brier and the Scotties will be the same starting this season. Some will correctly note that Curling Canada should have taken this step several years ago, but the federation should be applauded for making and implementing this important decision. Curling Canada CEO Katherine Henderson stated:
“This has been one of my goals since I joined Curling Canada in 2016, and a lot of hard work behind the scenes with our stakeholders went into making today’s announcement possible,” said Henderson. “We’ve long known that our athletes should be compensated similarly because they all work extremely hard to reach their high levels of performance. We were excited to make that happen for this year’s events.”
Team Silvernagle… The team from Saskatchewan was one of the better stories of 2018-19, but they have not been able to maintain their form this season including a disappointing 1-5 record at the Canada Cup. Each member of the team finished last at their position in shooting percentage and from the limited highlights of their games shown on TV, it certainly looked like a difficult week for skip Robyn Silvernagle. The good news for Team Silvernagle is that the team has qualified for the next Grand Slam of the season and will soon turn their focus to defending their title at the Saskatchewan Scotties.
Team Dunstone… This young team had a breakthrough victory at the 2019 Masters in North Bay but struggled in the second Grand Slam event of the season and were the only team, men or women, to go winless at the Canada Cup. Following his team’s victory at the Slam in North Bay, Dunstone told FTH that the most important thing for his team moving forward was to work on their consistency which was an issue in Leduc. Dunstone finished with the top shooting percentage among skips but third Braeden Moskowy ranked in the middle of the pack at his position while both Caitlin Schneider and Dustin Kidby found themselves near the bottom of the rankings at the second and lead positions respectively.
Jennifer Jones… The Olympic gold medalist and six-time Scotties champion had difficulty finding her groove at her last two Curling Canada women’s events. Last spring, her team failed to qualify for the playoffs at the Scotties for only the second time in fourteen appearances. In Leduc, where her team was looking to win its third straight Canada Cup title, Jones never found her groove. I realize that giving a “bad review” to arguably the greatest female curler in the history of the sport might seem sacrilegious to some but, the reality is that Jones did not have a great week in Leduc. That said, every time people start to question her form, Jones usually goes out and wins a major event. Look for Team Jones to be a factor at the next two Grand Slam events and the Manitoba playdowns.
Darren Moulding’s shoe… The semi-final at the Canada Cup saw Team Bottcher get derailed by an uncharacteristic team performance including a steal of four by Team Epping in the 3rd end. However, what most people will remember about that game is Darren Moulding’s shoe falling apart to cause a delay in the action. As Brendan Bottcher shared with FTH:
“The sole of Darren’s shoe separated from the leather. They tried fixing it by glueing it back together, but later in the game, it came apart again. Strange for sure, because they were new, and Darren had played less than 35 games with those shoes. While the glue was drying the first time, he was forced to use another pair of shoes which were different, certainly not an ideal situation in the semifinals of the largest event of the season to date.”
Team “Berndegger” … Just a few days after skip Casey Scheidegger had welcomed a second child into the world, 2010 Olympic silver medalist Cheryl Bernard led the remaining members of Team Scheidegger to a 2-0 start in Leduc. It was Bernard’s first action at a national level event since stepping away from regular competition back in 2014. Despite an exciting start, the team went on to lose their final four games. Bernard told FTH that the strong start didn’t put additional pressure on her or the team:
“I don’t think we felt any additional pressure after starting 2-0. Truth be told, we simply didn’t adapt to changing ice conditions as well as we would have liked on Day 2 and Day 3 and, as a result, we weren’t as confident as to broom placement as we were on Day 1.”
New rocks… Many were surprised that Curling Canada decided to use a set of rocks that were unfamiliar to many of the elite men’s and women’s teams. That said, the rocks in question were used at three national events over the past 12 months including at the 2019 Canadian Mixed Doubles Championship where members from 6 of the 14 Canada Cup teams competed. In short, the rocks had been tested at elite competitions where no problems were identified, and all the newer rocks did at the Canada Cup was force teams to spend more time matching rocks than they typically do with sets that they are familiar with.
When Koe doesn’t Koe… Kevin Koe’s ability to make the “high, hard ones” look easy is so entrenched in the Canadian curling psyche that we are surprised when he misses one. In the 5th end of the Canada Cup final, you could hear a murmur in the crowd when they realized that Koe was going to attempt a “barely there” triple-takeout for multiple points, a shot that only a few other skips in the world would attempt, some of them as a last resort. The excitement built as Koe made his way back towards the hack, the crowd started clapping rhythmically and then there was a hush as Koe went into his wind-up followed by a slow crescendo of noise as the rock made its way down the ice. Then, just as the crowd was about to explode into applause following another “Kevin Koe special”, they realized that he had missed it and a moment of quiet shock came over the crowd followed by polite applause for a score of one.
Parity… There were five men’s and five women’s teams that were legitimate threats to win the 2019 Canada Cup and, truth be told, the other four teams could have conceivably qualified for the playoffs where, as we know, anything can happen. The women’s event was especially unpredictable with two of the top six teams in the world finishing with losing records, with a team skipped by a retired Olympian looking like they might make a run to the playoffs and where a player led her team to the women’s final despite her teammates each struggling for a large part of the event.
GAME OF THE CANADA CUP
A year from now, the only game that many of us might remember from the 2019 Canada Cup is the men’s semi-final. We’ll remember that game, not for a thrilling finish or a “Highlight of the Night” level shot but a bad shoe and a missed draw. Team Epping had taken control of the game by scoring four points in the 3rd end followed by a steal four points in the 4th end when Brendan Bottcher came up short on a draw while facing four Epping counters. The game will also be remembered for Darren Moulding’s shoe troubles which led to a delay in the action and caused him to end the game while wearing a regular sneaker.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
There were several strong individual performances in Leduc including those by the winning skips, Rachel Homan and John Epping. However, the player of the week at the 2019 Canada Cup was Tracy Fleury who carried her team for the better part of the round-robin, making timely shots at key moments and leading her team to the championship final.