Thursday, 15 November 2012

Grand Slam of Curling season gets underway

The Grand Slam of Curling season kicks off this week with the Rogers Masters of Curling in Brantford, Ont.

The men’s Grand Slam is a four-event series of marquee bonspiels reserved for the top rinks on the World Curling Tour. The purses for these tournaments are $100,000 each, making them the richest on tour.

Prior to this season, the Grand Slam series was purchased by Rogers, which now owns and operates the events with the CBC as a broadcast partner.

Here’s a primer for the 2012-13 Grand Slam season:

When are the events?

The men’s Grand Slam series opens this week with the Rogers Masters of Curling in Brantford, Ont. (Nov. 15-19) and continues with the Canadian Open of Curling in Kelowna, B.C. (Dec. 12-16), The National in Port Hawkesbury, N.S. (Jan. 23-27) and the season-ending Players’ Championship in Toronto (April 16-21).

What about women’s events?

Three of the five women’s Slams have already been held. Sherry Middaugh won the Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic in early October, and Stefanie Lawton took the following two events — the Manitoba Lotteries Women’s Curling Classic in mid-October, and last week’s Colonial Square Ladies Classic. The final two women’s Slams will be held concurrently with the men’s at the Rogers Masters of Curling and the Players’ Championship.

What was the best men’s team last year?

Glenn Howard’s rink won two of the four Slams (the World Cup of Curling and The National) and made it to the final of the Players’ Championship, where they lost to John Epping’s team in a rematch of the World Cup title game. Mike McEwen took the Canadian Open title.

Howard’s success in the Slams carried over into the championship portion of the season, as the Coldwater, Ont., native captured his second Brier and world titles as a skip.

Who’s playing well this season?

Though the first Grand Slam is this week, the World Curling Tour has been up and running since late summer. Kevin Koe, the 2010 world champion, has a commanding lead atop the money list, with more than $65,000 earned in six events. The Edmonton skip is well ahead of Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton ($37,900) and Edmonton’s Kevin Martin ($37,000), but those numbers could change with the start of the big-money Slam spiels.

Any notable changes for this season?

A few teams shuffled the deck. Former Brad Gushue third Mark Nichols — a key player on the 2006 Olympic gold medal rink — has moved to Manitoba to join Jeff Stoughton on a permanent basis, replacing longtime Stoughton lead Steve Gould. Nichols took most of last season off before playing with Stoughton’s rink at the Grand Slam season-ending Players’ Championship, where he caught the bug for a full-time return.

Gushue made a switch of his own after a disappointing Brier, replacing third Ryan Fry with Brett Gallant, who’s playing second. Gallant, a back-to-back Canadian junior champ in 2009 and ’10, first joined Gushue at last season’s Players’ Championship and now has the gig full-time.

Fry, meanwhile, is now with skip Brad Jacobs’s rink.

The retirement of four-time Brier champion skip Randy Ferbey forced David Nedohin, who threw fourth rocks for Ferbey, to find a new team. Nedohin is now skipping relative unknowns Colin Hodgson, Mike Westlund and Tom Sallows.

Over in Scotland, two-time world silver medallist Tom Brewster has joined forces with two-time world champ David Murdoch, who’s listed as an alternate for now but figures to become a factor given his track record.

On the women’s side, a pregnant Jennifer Jones has been watching from the sidelines as third Kaitlyn Lawes handles skip duties, with Kirsten Wall brought in to play third. Jones gave birth to her first child, a girl, on Tuesday and plans to be back for the Manitoba playdowns in late January.

Former Shannon Kleibrink third Amy Nixon, who helped Kleibrink win Olympic bronze in 2006, left to skip her own team. Kalynn Park now throws third rocks for Kleibrink.

Where can I watch the Grand Slams?

Games will be broadcast live on CBC Television and Sportsnet, and streamed on This week, CBC and bring you live coverage of the Rogers Masters of Curling, starting with the men’s quarter-finals on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET., followed by the men’s final on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Wendy Schumacher Melanie Alexander

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