On the 2022 Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic
Say that 10 times fast.
Indeed, I did have to say “The Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic” a great number of times this weekend, but eventually you get used to that long tournament name, as 31 ladies’ squads lined up this weekend in Calgary for a de facto “Slam”—in fact, this event used to be referred to as a women’s Slam in the days before there was a ladies field at all the Slams, which yes, is a very odd sentence to type—and it was an interesting one. Interesting because the timing of having two Slams in 3 weeks before this made it so that overseas teams would’ve had to stay stateside for a 4th straight week in order to accommodate (and many didn’t), and then the inaugural Pan Continental Championship happening a few kilometres across town took away another handful of teams that may have otherwise been here, leaving the field a bit less competitive and a lot more wide-open than it might have been.
That said, it made the event a fun one as we got to see some teams get a little shine they might not have gotten otherwise in a deeper field and the field was still one of the best non-Slam ones we’ll see this year. Here’s what I saw on the ground and in the club covering 11 games:
Eun-Ji Gim: I interviewed Dani Jentsch post-game and asked her about her upcoming match against Ikue Kitazawa, and she said that the Asian curling teams are like machines, so she expected a great and consistent game against Kitazawa. While Kitazawa struggled a bit this weekend, the Gim team absolutely did not and particularly on Championship Monday, absolutely ran like a well-oiled machine. Where it seemed like runners-up Michele Jäggi ran out of energy in the final playing their tenth game of the weekend, Gim looked like they could play three more games and it was their ninth. They have played in 9 events this season and made the playoffs in all of them and at least the semis in 7 of them. That is as good of a hit rate as you’ll see at the top level of the game and it’s clear the addition of Min-Ji Kim at third has really unlocked something for the veteran Gim. They played at a Slam-winning level this weekend and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them finally get one before the year is out. Plus, South Korean banking laws make it so it’s tough to get a foreign cheque into their bank accounts, and thus, the event paid them out in cash, which led to this awesome moment where the entire team threw about $8000 of their $12,000 winnings into the air in celebration. It ruled.
Michele Jäggi: They just found ways to win games and sometimes in a long event like this, that’s all that matters. If you throw out their C-side run on Sunday where they clearly got on a roll, all of their wins were by 2 points or less. They hung around in games, capitalized on mistakes, and made it to the final when it looked like they were done after getting bombed 10-3 by Kayla Skrlik in the A-side and then immediately losing in the B-side to Abby Ackland. Irene Schori is back at her natural position of third and said she’s loving it, and it’s clear Jäggi has a nice finesse game. While Tirinzoni and Keiser seem to be the clear 1 and 2 in Swiss curling, I think this team will absolutely be in the mix too as Switzerland continues to make their case as the deepest curling country after Canada.
Casey Scheidegger: Sometimes qualifying out of the A can be both a blessing and a curse, as that day off feels really nice but can lead to a slow start in the playoffs and that seemed to catch Scheidegger as they barely knocked off Selena Sturmay in the quarterfinal (Casey needed to hit the 4-foot with her last for the win and got it by a literal inch) and then were just not in the game with Gim in the semifinals. Still a nice result for the new squad and two things I noticed: 1) I think Kate Hogan is a wonderful third and playing with Casey there’s also a clear personality match there. I think this combo is gonna pay huge dividends for them both and they’re gonna make some noise this quad; 2) Taylor McDonald is a top-5 sweeper on the ladies’ side of the game, and also looks immediately comfortable at lead. I always had respect for her sweeping game but it was evident this weekend as she dragged Casey’s rock to that inch they needed to beat Sturmay and did an awful lot of nice work carving and knifing stones that she’s in the conversation of the game’s best.
Bonus thought: Kate Hogan joined me for commentary on a game and was an absolute natural with a great voice and clear comfort behind the mic. She told me it was her first time ever calling a game and I hope it isn’t the last.
Jennifer Jones: Playing a true rotation this weekend with every player sitting out at least one game, it did look like Jenn’s plan with adding Lisa Weagle to create a true 5-person unit (a plan that got kinda wrecked by COVID) is in full force now, and it looks good. The Young Stones are malleable and J. Jones looks comfortable out there. One thing that really impressed me is how much Jenn is involving her young charges in the strategy and game-calling. It always felt like Jenn would be comfortable there as she brought on Kaitlyn and Jocelyn quite young and they were always involved, but with Jenn being over 20 years older than her teammates now, you never quite knew. But it’s clear: the team dynamic has been worked on already and it looks easy. Last thing: there’s a saying in soccer that the most important player is “the first one on the team sheet”, as in, that’s the first player the manager writes into the lineup with no hesitation due to their quality. It’s clear that Karlee Burgess is that for this team. She’s the glue that allows Mack to skip when Jenn sits and it’s clear in strategy discussions Jenn absolutely trusts Karlee’s opinion. This team lineup will likely go through a few iterations throughout the next few seasons, but Karlee will be at third in all of them.
Kaitlyn Lawes: Well, look. Kaitlyn Lawes is 8.5 months pregnant. Selena Njegovan is 4 months pregnant, nursing a 3 week-old cold and was coughing so hard she gave herself a black eye in her sleep. We’ve had a few “women are amazing” moments in curling over the last few years, and this felt like another one just getting to watch this team compete this weekend and their run to the playoffs was so impressive. I’m sure they’ll be disappointed as they had Jäggi on the ropes, shutting her out for the first half of the game before allowing a crucial steal of 2 in the 6th that helped Jäggi win in an extra, but the effort was there and this lineup looks really strong. Jocelyn Peterman in particular was stellar over the two games we covered and Kaitlyn looks awfully good at the tee-head. Curling fans often want to wait for some huge win before they’re ready to give a team their roses, but watching them it’s obvious this is one of the top teams in Canada already and will only get more powerful once the “little pumpkins” are delivered and they get more games under their belt.
Selena Sturmay: We didn’t get a chance to stream any of their games so unfortunately I don’t have more insight, but look: the original Team Sturmay lineup is here and it’s working. They pushed Gim to the absolute limit in their B Final, they beat their provincial rivals Jessie Hunkin twice, and as I said earlier, they were an inch away from taking Casey Scheidegger to an extra end in the quarters. Skips are at their most dangerous when they’re comfortable and Selena looks mighty comfortable out there right now.
Abby Ackland: I hadn’t covered the Ackland team before, but they’re a team that’s been lurking at the Manitoba Scotties for a while and while I think that province’s Scotties will be some sort of cruel death trap (it’s possible that if there’s 3 Scotties Wild Cards again that all 3 could be Manitoban plus Team Canada is Manitoban so it could be FIVE MB teams at the Scotties), I think this team will be competitive at them with the chance to surprise. Meghan Walter (who I called Laura for 2 ends in an 8-games-deep-daze, some combination in my brain mixing her up with fellow young tuck-slider and third Laura Burtnyk and “Walter” being a letter off from “Walker”) is one hell of a player and is gonna be the key for this team after having a ton of success as a junior skip and winning the World Mixed as a 19 year-old.
Kayla Skrlik: As we said on the broadcast, it’s always nice when the team that’s involved in organizing the event does well, and for this team, qualifying out of A was a just reward for all their hard work. They also looked very good doing it, getting the only loss out of Team Gim the whole tournament and thumping their competition on the way to the A spot, beating three of the four eventual semi-finalists (and Serena Gray-Withers) by a combined 30-12 scoreline. It was an extremely impressive showing and they were full value for it too, unlucky not to pull off a Jones double, as they led by 3 going into the 8th end of the quarterfinal and gave up a tough 3 and a steal to lose. Brittany Tran has always had the talent but has never quite found the right lineup after her 2012 Canadian Juniors win, and this feels like it’s it. Kayla is rounding into form after a solid junior career, Geri-Lynn Ramsay is a great veteran’s presence in the two-spot, and I was also really wowed by Kayla’s younger sister Ashton, who is great on the brush and a very consistent lead, making some great tick shots in games they were leading to secure victories. Plus, they both set and then tied the single-game record for the #CursesforKids Swear Jar, with GL and Kayla helping the team contribute $40 per game to the Sandra Schmirler Foundation. You have to respect a team that swears on mic 4 times in a 10-3 victory, and I do.
The Best of the Rest: Dani Jentsch will go down as the unluckiest team in the tournament, losing an A semifinal and a B and C qualifier. Dani made one of the nicest shots of the tournament, making a postage stamp draw for 2 against Gim in a B-qualifier game they were unlucky to lose. Dani has all the shots in her locker and plays a very aggressive game where she lives by the sword and dies by the sword, and just ended up a few shots short of qualifying…Clancy Grandy was the 5th-ranked team in the year-to-date standings coming in, and will likely feel like the authors of their own demise this weekend, giving up a steal of 2 in 8 to lose the B semifinal to Kaitlyn Lawes in a game they controlled and a 7-ender to Jennifer Jones to get bounced from the tournament. They’re playing one of the more demanding schedules on tour so perhaps that caught up to them…Ikue Kitazawa could possibly say the same thing. Much like I was looking forward to seeing hot starters Riku Yanagisawa in Okotoks before they lost 3 straight, Kitazawa never seemed to have it this weekend. It was their 8th event of the year and the first one they didn’t qualify in. Time to regroup…A couple young teams impressed as Claire Booth bumped off Kristy Watling and Serena Gray-Withers barely missed out on qualifying. The kids are alright in Alberta…Sometimes in a triple-knockout tournament, teams lose the wrong games and it creates a C-event Quadrangle of Death (soccer has their groups of death, I’ll call ours a Quadrangle) and this event had one of the most deathly I’ve seen, with Clancy Grandy, Jennifer Jones, Chelsea Carey, and Kelsey Rocque all ending up on the same side of C. On another weekend, you could imagine those 4 teams being the semifinalists but the numbers game caught up to Carey and Rocque this time around…Chelsea told me after her A-side win against Rocque it was probably her best game of the year, and then they went 1-3 after that. They’re still searching for a bit of consistency early on…Finally, sending our best to Karlee Kendal, who wiped out while sweeping in Team Holland’s first game and ended up in an aircast with a hairline fracture in her foot. It did get Amy Nixon out of retirement for one game though, which was nice to see.
That’s it, that’s all. Excited to do it all over again this weekend as Curling Live rolls into Penticton for the NuFloors Classic. The lineup of teams is nuts, there’s a $100,000 purse, and we’ll have it all for you. Follow along on our YouTube Channel so you don’t miss a minute, and I’ll be back next week with a similar recap.
Follow me on Twitter at @cullenoncurling and subscribe to this newsletter to get it delivered to your inbox every time I publish. Thanks for reading.