By Price Atkinson
CHATHAM-KENT, Ontario - It's appropriate that the Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling series returns this week at the same time as the Ryder Cup.
Both the Princess Auto Elite 10 and the Ryder Cup employ a unique scoring system based on match play versus traditional scoring by the teams. And along with stopwatches not allowed by sweepers and no tick shots on rocks sitting on the centre line in the free-guard zone when the five-rock- rule is in effect, this is first Elite 10 event with women's teams competing.
While it's a shift from the norm, USA Curling's top-two women's teams are excited to embark on another GSOC series starting tonight at the St. Clair Campus Arena in Chatham-Kent, Ontario. Skip Nina Roth and Jamie Sinclair's rinks are both ranked in the top-10 in the world and come into the Elite 10 with momentum off a banner season last year overall for USA Curling.
Sinclair won the most prestigious of the Slam's last year, capturing the Players Championship, her first-career GSOC title. That came on the heels of a fourth-place finish at the Women's World Championship in Thunder Bay a month earlier.
Most recently this season at the Shorty Jenkins Classic, Sinclair got off to a 4-1 start in qualifying for the playoffs. However, Jennifer Harvey's rink got four in the seventh to knock the Americans out in the quarterfinals.
"We're excited to be apart of the first-ever Elite 10 for women," Sinclair said. "It's an honour to be able to play at this level and on this state. The U.S. is well represented with two teams in the top 10."
Sinclair, a native of Manotick, Ontario, will have a different wrinkle in her lineup this week while playing in her home Province. Vice-skip Alex Carlson won't be making the trip[ to Chatham-Kent, so fifth Taylor Anderson will be taking her place with sister Sarah and Monica Walker rounding out their foursome.
They're looking forward to the format and the aggressive style of game Sinclair likes to call.
"I'm excited to play match play," Sinclair said. "It will be our first time, so it's going to be a learning curve but it's really good practice for our offensive play. A lot of rocks in play, working with angles and soft weight shots. I can't wait.
"But we want to have fun out there, enjoy the fast pace and aggressive strategy and try to make some shots."
Roth's has also played a pair of events early this season, the most recent which came last week at the inaugural Curling World Cup in Suzhou where they finished second in their group behind Rachel Homan's rink. The 2018 U.S. Olympic team was also the women's representative at the filming of NBC's "Curling Night in America" series back in late August filmed at the Chaska Curling Club (results unknown until airing starting in October).
Roth's foursome is unchanged for last year except with a different order. Aileen Geving has moved into the lead role, swapping spots with Becca Hamilton. Like Sinclair, Roth is looking forward to the unique format this week.
"We are ready for the aggressive play of the Elite 10 this week," Roth said. "We're leaving the stopwatches at home!"
What else do Roth and Sinclair have in common this week besides wearing the stars and stripes? They're both in the same pool for round robin play. It's easily the toughest of the two pools, which also includes Anna Hasselborg's Olympic gold-medal winning team, Homan's rink that represented Canada at the Olympics rounded out by up-and-coming Casey Scheidegger's Canadian rink.
Sinclair will open round-robin play tonight at 7:00 p.m. (EST) against Hasselborg, while Roth begins the Slam against Scheidegger Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. (EST). They'll then square off against each other Friday morning at 8:30 a.m.
The six teams with best round-robin record will advance to the playoffs with the top two receiving byes directly into the semifinals.