There’s something intriguing about the Players’ Championship that differs from most highly touted curling events.
Gone is the provincial and national pride of the Brier or the Scotties Tournament of Hearts or even the Winter Olympics.
This is curling competition at its finest with the best 15 men’s and women’s rinks on the planet vying for one collective goal – cash.
The sides will each compete for $100,000 purses as well as $100,000 bonuses to be split among the top three Grand Slam point getters from the season.
If Rachael Homan wins the Players’ Championship, it will be a sweep for her Ontario rink at Grand Slam events this year and they’ll take the entire bonus for themselves.
Kevin Martin, the skip of his Edmonton rink loves both tournaments (Brier and Players) for different reasons.
“The Brier is awesome. It’s kind of like the Grey Cup, it’s Canadiana, it’s cultural, it’s traditional, it’s regional and it doesn’t matter your ranking,” he said. “The Players’ Championship you get to come here because of where you rank in the world and that’s it.”
“So it’s the best versus the best. I love the Players’ Championship, I always have. When you come there aren’t any easy games. It’s a battle, I love that.”
The format allows powerhouse curling provinces like Alberta and Ontario to send numerous teams as opposed to just one (Ontario’s case two) as during the national championships. Wayne Middaugh, vice for Glenn Howard’s Coldwater, Ont. rink doesn’t have any trouble getting up for these games.
“I just love playing, but I want to play against the best teams all the time and you don’t always get that opportunity. The Slams have really done what they’re supposed to do,” said the third, whose wife is also playing this week on the women’s side.
“When you look around you see the reigning World Champion, Brier Champions, five teams from Ontario and a couple from Alberta. Koe and Martin are both here and you would never see that at a Brier.”
Maple Leaf Gardens
Playing at Maple Leaf Gardens, known today as the Mattamy Athletic Centre, has been a thrill for many of the curlers this week.
The building looks much different than when the likes of Darryl Sittler, Dave Keon, and Wendel Clark roamed these halls, but the memories are still strong.
“That’s a dream for me. To be on the ice surface at Maple Leaf Gardens is great,” said Middaugh, a die-hard Maple Leafs fan. “I grew up going to concerts here and watching the Marlies and the Leafs.”
“I look up to the ceiling and it’s still the same, so it’s pretty neat.”
When Martin arrived at the Gardens last weekend, he took the opportunity to document the moment.
“I went right across the street and took a few videos and put them on my App for everyone to see,” said the 46-year-old. “I never was in the building until this weekend, a very special treat.”
Martin was an Oilers and Flyers fan growing up in Alberta, but still remembers watching games from Maple Leaf Gardens on television.
Night Three at the Player’ Championship
Thursday night featured four closely contested matches and one lopsided upset, all on the men’s side.
John Epping defeated the 2013 Brier Champion Brad Jacobs 6-2 in just six ends. With the win Epping improves to 1-2 and stays alive in the hunt to make the playoffs and repeat as the Players’ Champion that he won last year.
“We have been struggling a bit, that was actually an elimination game, the rest our elimination games for us,” he said. “It’s pretty easy, we win or we go home.”
Jacobs shook hands after being down by four with two ends left.
“I thought he might play one more, but we were solid tonight, we had a good control of the game,” said Epping. “If he got two in seven we’re still up two coming home with the last rock.”
The win also means a lot for qualifying for the Olympic trails next year.
“They’re one point ahead of us going into the week (Olympic qualification) and whoever has a better record this week will get that last trial spot,” said Epping.
Jacobs falls to 1-1.
In other action, Martin snapped back after Wednesday’s loss to beat Steve Laycock 6-4 to improve to 2-1 and is tied for first in Pool A with Thomas Ulsrud.
Jeff Stoughton’s Manitoba rink beat Niklas Edin from Sweden 6-4. Stoughton even’s his record at 1-1 while Edin falls to 1-2.
Olympic champion Brad Gushue of Nova Scotia lost to Mike McEwen 6-4 in seven ends. McEwen remains undefeated at 2-0. Gushue is 1-2.
Jim Cotter improved to 2-1 with a close 5-4 victory against Joe Frans who falls to 1-2.