Players’ Championship Women’s Final

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Image Credit: Pinty’s Grand Slam Of Curling

 

 

After the semi-finals, I was positively buzzing. I couldn’t have asked for a better result…my two favorite rinks were set to face off in the women’s final. No matter who won, the result would make me happy. Of course, it also dawned on me at this time that one of my favorite teams was also about to lose. To say I was torn would be an understatement.

 

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

 

In my heart, I wanted Sidorova to win. They were underdogs the whole week, and quite honestly didn’t seem to have that many people cheering for them. Curling fans being good sports, they cheered for good shots and what not, but overall there didn’t seem to be much fan support for the team as a whole. Besides that, they were playing very well all week. They had to fight to get a tiebreaker, and then had to fight again to win that game and make the playoffs. Yet here they were, one game away from winning it all…icing on the cake to a great season that included a second bronze medal at the Women’s World Championships last month, a silver medal at the European Championships back in November, and a gold medal at the Winter Universidade in January.

Honestly, I’m going to come right out and say it: this rink doesn’t get the respect it deserves. All too often they’re either ignored or dismissed as being a bunch of “pretty girls.” Of course they are four very beautiful women, but they are damn good curlers too. I’ve been following them since they struggled in Sochi, and it has been nothing short of awesome to see them get better and better. To pull off this win would be huge…their first grand slam win, and only the second non-Canadian rink to win a grand slam event. Huge to say the least.

 

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Image Credit: Wikipedia

 

On the other hand, in my head I knew that Muirhead needed this win. They’re one of the best rinks in women’s curling right now, so nobody was surprised when they made it into the playoffs.  They have a decent fanbase in Canada, but naturally the home team is almost always to win out when it comes to support. They had played great all week as well, and had definitely fought for and earned their spot in the final. A win here would be a great end to the season.

Like Sidorova, I have been following Muirhead since Sochi, and without a doubt they are my favorite curling rink (Sidorova is a close close second). Team Muirhead is known for their experience, skill, mastery of strategy, and incredible shot-making ability…not to mention their willingness to take calculated risks to score big when necessary. As with Team Sidorova they are four absolutely beautiful women as well, but unlike with Sidorova that fact is rarely if ever used to denigrate or dismiss them. Their 2013-2014 season was phenomenal, including of course their bronze medal at the olympics.

This season, on the other hand, was very up-and-down for them. They had some big wins, including the inaugural women’s event at the Canadian Open back in December. On the other hand, they had their share of disappointments as well. They won a bronze medal at the European Championships back in November, gutting it out and getting it done after some tough losses in the round-robin and playoffs. At Women’s Worlds last month they had some struggles again, winning a tiebreaker against China to earn a berth to the playoffs to ultimately fall to Sidorova in the bronze medal game.

Needless to say that a win here would be huge for them, and a great way to end the season on a high note. For Team Sidorova, they were playing in their first ever grand-slam final, already going further than most if not all people had expected them to. Lose the match, and they could hold their heads high knowing they gave it their all and had a great run. For Team Muirhead, on the other hand, this would be another disappointing loss in a season that had already had its fair share of them. Besides the sting of defeat and the loss of prize money, they would also miss out on winning the Rogers Grand Slam Cup (awarded to the top team in the grand slam events each year), which carried with it extra prize money as well as prestige. A loss here would be costly both financially and to their morale…I know this rink and I knew that it would only fuel their fire even more if they lost, but that wouldn’t make it any less painful for them. A win here would be a huge boost going into the off-season, and make it that much more enjoyable.

So, with that in mind (yes, I seriously had gone over all this in my head in the hour or so in between draws) I went into the arena to watch the match I had been waiting all week for.

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Players’ Championship Trophy & Rogers Grand Slam Cup

 

The arena was already starting to fill up as the teams entered for their pre-game warm-ups and practice. Sidorova was awarded hammer in the first end with a beautiful draw to the button. Both rinks looked focused and ready. Soon enough, it was time to line up for player introductions by the always entertaining Pete Steski.

Pete

As with any televised match, there was a brief wait for the broadcast to be ready for the players.

Pete 2

Soon enough, the rinks took to the ice to await the start of the match.

More TV WaitSkips Wait

 

Before long, action was underway. I took a lot of pictures this match, including one of every player throwing a shot.

Reid

Sarah Reid, Lead

Galkina

Ekaterina Galkina, Lead

Adams

Vicki Adams, Second

Saitova

Aleksandra Saitova, Second

Sloan

Anna Sloan, Vice-Skip

Fomina

Margarita Fomina, Vice-Skip

Muirhead

Eve Muirhead, Skip

Sidorova

Anna Sidorova, Skip

The tension in the arena was palpable, the air electric. The only other time I’ve been in an environment that felt like this was at game 2 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. Sidorova blanked the first end, and was forced to draw for 1 in the second. Muirhead scored 1 in the third with a difficult runback shot. In the fourth end, Sidorova was once again forced to draw for 1. Eve Muirhead attempted a difficult split in the fifth end, but had to settle for 1. Facing 1 shot stone, Anna Sidorova blanked the sixth end and retained the hammer. For her final shot in the seventh end, Sidorova was facing 1 but was lying 2nd, 3rd, and 4th shot. It was a difficult shot to say the least, as she would have to hit and runback to move Muirhead’s stone out, but the payoff would be a possible score of anywhere from 2-4, which could have all but ended the game. Worst case scenario she gives up a steal of 1 but retains the hammer coming home down 3-2, which is a good spot to be in. Unfortunately she missed, but it was the right call.

These are some of the pictures I took throughout the even ends.

Muirhead Action 1Muirhead Action 2

Muirhead Action 3Muirhead Plan

Muirhead ShotRus Action 1 Rus Action 2 Rus Action 3

Sidorova Shot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna Sidorova needed to score 1 to force and extra end, or score 2 to win. Anything else and the match would be over. After her first stone, Sidorova was facing 1, with several stones in her path to the button. Eve Muirhead called a time out to plan her final shot.

Muirhead TO

Team Muirhead Discusses Their Options

Muirhead TO 2

Team Muirhead Plans Their Final Shot

She threw up another guard, leaving Sidorova facing 1 with several stones in her path to either hit or draw.

Anna Sidorova called a time out, so they could confer with their coach.

Team Sidorova Time Out

Team Sidorova Time Out

Sidorova TO2

Team Sidorova Weighing Their Options

Sidorova went down to get set up in the hack, saw something, then came back down the ice. She decided on a very difficult tap double, which required her to draw through a narrow port and perfectly tap back her stone lying 2nd shot. If successful, she scores at least 1 to force the extra end, and possibly 2 to win the match. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop in the arena.

With her trademark steely-eyed determination, Sidorova came gracefully sliding out of the hack, high on her toes as always. I can’t imagine making a simple draw under this kind of pressure, let alone a shot as difficult as this one. Nevertheless, she seemed unfazed as she carefully released the stone. Time seemed to slow down as the yellow-handled hunk of polished granite slid loudly down the ice, slowly curling, accompanied by the Russian sweepers. Amazingly, it made it through the port, narrowly missing several stones as it moved to its collision course with destiny. Contact was made, the 2nd-shot stone ran back…and fell inches short of lying shot. An extremely difficult shot executed beautifully, and it just wasn’t enough. It was a great shot, incredible even. Sadly, it was all for naught. The crowd sighed in disappointment, but soon erupted in cheers for the victorious Team Muirhead, who shook hands with their opponents before high-fiving and then hugging one another. Team Sidorova did the same, but their disappointment was evident.

Over Over2

 

Team Muirhead was presented with their trophies and conducted post-game interviews, while Team Sidorova quietly left the ice…stopping for the spectators and fans who were waiting for them alongside the ice. You could see in their faces that they were saddened by their loss, but being the great sportswomen that they are they kept their poise and smiled and posed for photographs and signed programs and t-shirts for everyone who came down to the ice to see them. We left shortly thereafter, as we had an 8 hour drive ahead of us and it was already late in the afternoon.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d find myself feeling a tinge of disappointment after seeing my favorite curling rink win a major victory. Yet, there I was. Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond thrilled for them and am ecstatic that they were able to end their season on a high note. But at that moment, in that arena, I was saddened to see my other favorites play so hard and come so close to victory and fall short. I guess no matter how hard we try to rationalize things, it’s hard to outthink emotion. Now that some time has passed, I find myself evening out. I’m elated for Team Muirhead to go into the off-season with a big win, showing once again that they are some of the best out there. On the other hand, I’m happy that Team Sidorova played their hearts out and gave it a hell of a run. They had a great season, and I think they’ve once again showed the curling world that they are a force to be reckoned with, and are only going to get better.

Image Credit: Pinty's Grand Slam Of Curling. Photo By Anil Mungal

Image Credit: Pinty’s Grand Slam Of Curling.
Photo By Anil Mungal

Team Sidorova, if by some chance any of you are reading this, I just want to say congratulations on a great run and a great season! You guys played great throughout the event, and it was awesome getting to see you play live. It was nice meeting you all as well, thanks again for the pictures, and I hope you all enjoy the off season. I can’t wait to see what you guys do next season.

Team Muirhead, if any of you are somehow reading this congratulations on your second Players’ Championship Trophy and the Rogers Grand Slam Cup! You played great throughout the event as well…I was beyond excited finally getting to see my favorite curling rink play in person, and you certainly didn’t disappoint. Thanks for the pictures, it was nice getting to meet all of you. Enjoy your summer, and I can’t wait to watch you all play again next season.

 

philCPhil Darin is Windy City’s resident armchair curler who even plays from time to time. He often loses on the ice, but he always wins at broomstacking. Would you like to hear more about curling, whisky, or gambling? Are you Eve Muirhead?

Want to contact Phil directly? Do you need a restaurant recommendation in Vegas?

prdarin@gmail.com 

Players’ Championship Semi-Finals

Today was the last day of the Players’ Championship. The morning draw featured the men’s and women’s semi-final matches: Team Jacobs vs Team Bottcher/Middaugh, Team McEwen vs Team Epping, Team Sidorova vs Team Sweeting, and Team Muirhead vs Team Homan.

We got to the arena area early, in case there wasn’t much parking. Luckily the lot was empty and we grabbed breakfast nearby. I was beyond nervous, as I was so close to getting to see my two favorite curling rinks face off in the women’s final. I couldn’t wait to get inside and for the matches to get underway.

As usual, I had my flags with me to show my support for Muirhead and Sidorova.

Flags

Sweeting and Homan are two of the top Canadian rinks, and fan favorites. So we were definitely in the minority.

Soon all the teams were out on the ice, and it was obvious they were anxious to get play started.

Teams Waiting

Of course, they had to wait for introductions, courtesy of the always entertaining MC Peter Steski.

Pete

Being a big TV event for Sportsnet, the broadcast at times will dictate the pace. Such was the case as the teams had to wait for the go-ahead to start playing.

Teams On IceSkips

McEwen-Epping was the featured match on the middle sheet, so they had to wait a bit longer to get going while the other matches started. Pretty soon though things were underway. We had a great view of all four matches, and we were treated to four great ones.

ActionHoman

JacobsJacobs 2

At this point it’s win or go home for all the rinks, with money and prestige on the line. Lots of great shots were being made, and nobody had it easy.

Sid Plan

Sidorova fell behind 0-3 after a few ends, and for awhile things were looking bleak. They managed to battle back and make it a game though.

Jacobs Plan

Jacobs and Bottcher were having quite the battle as well. It came down to the last stone for Brad Jacobs.

In the end, Muirhead, Sidorova, McEwen and Jacobs all won! These were the four teams I wanted to see, so needless to say I was excited. We weren’t going to be able to make the men’s final, as it started to late and we had an eight-hour drive home.

We would get to see the women’s final though, and I was getting exactly the matchup I wanted…I couldn’t wait for it to start.

While leaving the arena, we saw some folks from Hollywood Curling hanging out with Team Tirinzoni. We stopped by to talk with them for a bit, since they’re an arena club with less-than-desirable ice time as well. It was really cool meeting them, and hopefully our paths will cross again in the future sooner rather than later.

philCPhil Darin is Windy City’s resident armchair curler who even plays from time to time. He often loses on the ice, but he always wins at broomstacking. Would you like to hear more about curling, whisky, or gambling? Are you Eve Muirhead?

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Day 6: Tiebreaker, Quarterfinals, & Horse Racing!

Once again we were up early to get over to the arena. Team Sidorova had to play Team Middaugh in a tiebreaker for the 6th and final playoff spot. The draw was free, and almost completely empty. We decided to sit right behind their sheet and cheer them on from up close.

Ice View

I took a lot of pics, being that close to the action with little blocking our view.

SVIIPWatchingDiscussion

Team Sweeting and Team Homan showed up, taking in a little bit of the action. Kevin Martin was hanging around again as well.

SweetingHoman

Like any good rink, Team Sidorova are excellent at communication. In this video you can hear their distinctive sweep calls. If you’ve ever watched them play, you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say SVIIIP!!!

Team Sidorova won! This meant that I was going to get to see my two favorite rinks compete to make it to the semi-final round the next day. The next draw was at noon, so we grabbed a quick lunch and headed back to the arena.

FlagsPete

Team Muirhead was once again taking on Team Nedohin, while Team Sidorova was taking on the reigning World Champions Team Paetz from Switzerland. Again, we got to see two great games.

Eve PlanningSid Planning

The highlight of this draw though was this incredible shot by Anna Sidorova. A triple raise to score 2! So glad I got to see a shot like this live, it was seriously incredible. There’s a video in this link:

http://www.thegrandslamofcurling.com/curling/playerschampionship/gotta-see-it-sidorovas-triple-raise-to-score-2/

Muirhead and Sidorova won! So now Team Muirhead was set to take on Team Homan while Team Sidorova was set to take on Team Sweeting in the semi-finals on Sunday.

We had a little more time before the men’s quarterfinal, and we felt like celebrating. Innis & Gunn (Scottish Beer) and a dram of Glenmorangie (Scotch Whisky) for Team Muirhead:

Drinks 1

And a shot of vodka for Team Sidorova…they didn’t have any Russian Vodka, so I made do with Absolut:

Drinks 2

Team Jacobs and Team McEwen had byes to the semi-finals, so we got to see Team Gushue take on Team Bottcher (with Wayne Middaugh subbing in as skip, Brendan Bottcher had to get back to school) and Team Kevin Koe take on Team Epping.

Koe 1Koe 2

Epping and Bottcher won. Super-spare (his unofficial nickname for the weekend) made an incredible shot to win it. Check out the video here (link should work in US):

http://www.sportsnet.ca/curling/gotta-see-it-middaugh-makes-double-to-beat-gushue/

As soon as the draw ended we hopped in the car to head out to Mohawk (horse track) to catch some harness racing. Traffic in Toronto can be awful, and this was no exception. It didn’t open up until we were well onto the highway. We ate dinner there and bet on some races. It was fun, but we weren’t winning anything…the favorites were winning every race and if you know anything about betting on horses you’ll know that that isn’t usually a good thing. And if you didn’t know that now you do, ha ha.

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After that we stopped off at a grocery store to stock up on some Canadian candy and stuff to bring back with us. We would be up early to pack, check out, and get over to the arena for the semifinal draw!

 

philCPhil Darin is Windy City’s resident armchair curler who even plays from time to time. He often loses on the ice, but he always wins at broomstacking. Would you like to hear more about curling, whisky, or gambling? Are you Eve Muirhead?


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One Year of Memories at Windy City Curling

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An overhead view of the first night at Windy City Curling.

Seems like just yesterday that everyone met at Windy City for the first week of curling. April 3, 2014.

And although everyone has their memorable points from the past year, I just wanted to highlight a few of mine.

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The Opening Night Cake

 

TEAM JEFF GALAS WINS THE FIRST LEAGUE

Despite personally throwing many stones through the house to actually getting stones in play, our team was able to take the first league championship.

1stChamps

Windy City’s 1st League Champions: Jacob Widlowski, Dan Mulka, Simon Ganet, Elvis Presley (alternate) and Jeff Galas (skip)

 

HALLOWEEN

Although I personally spent most of the summer at work and had to miss a few months of curling, Halloween at Windy City was definitely one to remember. Well, when you see this Jack O Lantern … you know you are at home.

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Halloween Genius

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Halloween

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More Halloween

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Even more Halloween

 

NEO FROM THE MATRIX’S ‘SWEEPING’ SAVES US A POINT

I truly wish I had a photo of this, but I’m going to do my best to describe it.  And, maybe some Photoshop.

NEO

Fun with Photoshop

I was the Vice for Team Wolanik – and Andy was shooting the “Skips stones.” I was in the house, calling the line.

Our second, Nick Solka, is amazing on the broom – really putting his heart and soul into sweeping.

On this night … he slipped. Ended up on his back, in front of the stone. Now, from my angle, this all happened in super-slow motion …

He slipped in front of the stone – with him brook going flying sideways down the ice.

In a “hurting my back just thinking about it” moment – he went into a back bridge to have the stone go under him.

The stone makes it under Nick, bounces off an opponents rock and barely squeaks closer to the button for the point.

Now, if I remember right, we probably only took 2 points that game … but sometimes a shot like that can turn a severe butt-kicking into a memorable-in-a-funny-way enjoyable game.

Nick Solka was uninjured on the play.

BONSPIELS

For those really new to the curling world, bonspiels are curling tournaments.  I participated in a few different bonspiels.   The Prairie State Challenge, the ICA 5 & Under, the Big Spiel in Minnesota and the Dar Curtis.

My teams had some good luck, and had some bad luck (including one of my mens teams getting destroyed by a group of high school girls).  As arena curlers not used to dedicated ice, it took a while at each tournament to get used to our shots.  It made all of us realize how much we want our own dedicated ice.

Speaking of fundraising – have you bought a raffle ticket to benefit Windy City Curling?  Each ticket is $20, but gives you a 1-in-250 chance to win $1000!  We actually have 9 other cash prizes you can win.  For more information, click here.

Like how I worked that in?

But some of the best parts about bonspiels are hanging out with all of the other curlers, including both other Windy City members and members from other clubs.  You get to meet a lot of new people and hear a lot of great stories.

THE BIG SPIEL IN MINNESOTA

As I mentioned earlier, a few of us made our trip up to Minnesota to take part in their “Big Spiel.”  You know you are up for an interesting trip when the ride includes listening to a mix of French-Canadian country music and 90’s hip hop.

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The Pilot on the Trip to Minnesota

 

Curling-wise: our team was one game away from the finals of the 8th event.  This would be the equivalent of finishing roughly in 84th place of 96 teams.

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At Frogtown Curling Club – Pictured: Dan Mulka, Phil Darin, Greg Torkelson (skip) and Nate Bock (sub from St. Paul Curling Club)

 

Non-curling wise:  lots of food, lots of beer, lots of fun.  We all got to take in a Minnesota Wild / Chicago Blackhawks hockey game with the unbelievably cool, two-time Olympian Jessica Schultz (who I had interviewed earlier in the year for the blog)

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Pictured left to right: Lysa (Jess’ friend), Jessica, Dan, Phil, Greg, Greg’s friend

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Greg, Charlie Brown, Phil

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Linus and Dan

 

Food-wise:  This is just an excuse to put in a picture of Poutine (from Four Seasons Curling Club).

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Yummy ….

 

CLUB CHAMPIONSHIP

It’s funny how a season can turn.  Especially in the first week.

Curling in the club championship with Team Richardson (Josh Richardson, Chuck Justis and Dan Burrows) – we were down early in week one.  This includes a 5 point deficit at one point, and a 3 point deficit with two ends to play.  Thought the championship was out of reach.

We forced the extra end, took the game and never looked back.  We ran the table to go undefeated.

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2014/2015 Inaugural Club Champions – Pictured left-to-right: Chuck Justis (vice), Josh Richardson (skip), Dan Mulka (second) and Dan Burrows (lead)

 

IN CONCLUSION
A lot of hours, a lot of miles, and a lot of fun  From that first week a year ago until now, I’ve been hooked on the sport of curling.  For those who I’ve met on this journey so far – THANK YOU!  To Windy City Curling – THANK YOU!

For those looking for new stories and new friends – it’s time to join Windy City Curling.  Whether its a Learn to Curl or our Rookie Leagues … you will be the envy of your friends.  Stay tuned to WindyCityCurling.com for more events where you can get involved.

Trust me, it’s well worth it.

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Day 5: What Else? Curling!

Another early day to make it to an early morning draw.

 

It was really empty, so once again we sat right by the ice.

View

Today was the final day of round-robin play, so most of these games were really important.

Early on in the first end, we noticed the great Kevin Martin standing and watching the action, so we took the opportunity to get a picture with him.

KmartmeKmart Neil

It was fairly quiet in the arena, so we could hear things really well.

HackHack 2

Of course we were primarily watching my favorite rink, Team Muirhead, take on Team Feltscher but we were also keeping eyes on Team Sweeting vs Team McDonald and Team Sidorova vs Team Jennifer Jones.

Muirhead defeated Feltscher somewhat early, so we moved to get a better view of the Sidorova-Jones match.

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We moved from the side of the ice to watch the end of the match, as we wanted to try and catch them to get some pictures afterwards. While sitting near our usual seats, we noticed Team Muirhead was hanging out and watching the matches.

Hanging Out

We also saw Team Feltscher in the stands, watching the remaining games.

Team Sidorova ended up winning in an extra end! They were down 1 with hammer in the eighth end, and while drawing for two Sidorova came up short. In the extra end, she was lying 2 and left Jones with a difficult draw to score 1 and win. Jones opted to try and take out their 2 to sit 1, but she jammed and gave up a steal of 1 to Sidorova. We managed to catch them as they were heading off the ice and got some pics.

Me SidNeil Sid

I congratulated Anna about her win, and made a crack to her about the game which caused her to burst out laughing, which was pretty cool. Their coach recognized us as “the guys with the Russian flag” and thanked us for our support, so that was really cool.

We had previously decided to skip the noon draw, as we would be going to both the late afternoon and evening draws. We went back to the hotel, grabbed some lunch, then relaxed before walking back over to the arena.

The afternoon draw was the last one for the women, and was important to say the least. Teams were facing elimination, while others were fighting to avoid tiebreakers. Two of my favorite rinks, and definitely my two favorite women’s rinks (Muirhead and Sidorova) were facing off. If Sidorova won, they had a shot at the playoffs…lose, and they would probably be eliminated. Muirhead was looking at a possible bye past the first round of the playoffs if she won, and might have to face a tiebreaker if she lost. I was torn…my head knew Sidorova needed to win, but my heart was cheering for Muirhead.

SM SM2

Ultimately Sidorova won, and the way the other games played out Muirhead avoided a tiebreaker. Sidorova would play a tiebreaker on Saturday morning. After the draw, we got some pictures with Team Homan, who won and earned a bye to the semifinals on Sunday morning.

EMTH

Neil FENeil EMNeil RH

As we were leaving, we saw Team Edin heading out, and we gave them some Windy City Curling T-Shirts.

Edin

We ran across the street for some quick food, then headed back to the arena for the night draw.

This draw was a lot more crowded than the others. It wasn’t packed, but definitely much more crowded. There wasn’t as much on the line as with the final women’s draw, but the games were still important.

Skips

Our best views were of Jacobs vs Epping, and McEwen vs Gushue. Jeff Stoughton was also playing in his final game of his career, taking on Steve Laycock’s rink. Carruthers was playing Howard, which was on the sheet closest to us.

JHJT

MHMT

They were some great matches. I managed to get a video of Brad Jacobs’ game-winning shot.

Afterwards, we managed to grab some pics with them.

Jacobs RinkMe RF

Neil JR

All in all another great day. Now, I should probably get to bed as we have to get up early and get to the arena for the tiebreaker game to cheer on Team Sidorova!

 

philCPhil Darin is Windy City’s resident armchair curler who even plays from time to time. He often loses on the ice, but he always wins at broomstacking. Would you like to hear more about curling, whisky, or gambling? Are you Eve Muirhead?

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