Eight Ends: All you need to know for the GSOC Canadian Open

The Meridian Canadian Open is set to kick off the 2017 portion of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season.

Sixteen of the top men’s teams and 16 of the top women’s teams from around the world are ready to square off in the fourth event and third major of the series with a $250,000 purse and valuable points up for grabs in the chase for the Rogers Grand Slam Cup. Winners of the event will also earn berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup taking place in Calgary at the end of April.

Before the Meridian Canadian Open gets underway Tuesday night at the Civic Centre in North Battleford, Sask., here are the facts, stats and storylines you need to know:

1st End: A brief history of the Meridian Canadian Open

The Canadian Open ushered in the Grand Slam era as the first event of the inaugural 2001-02 season.

This is the third consecutive time the event will be held in Saskatchewan with Yorkton playing host during the past two seasons.

Toronto’s John Epping enters as the defending men’s champion after a sizzling performance that saw him throw angle raises from everywhere and score a perfect 100 percent in the final over Brad Gushue. Ottawa’s Rachel Homan is the reigning women’s champ winning her third consecutive Grand Slam title in Yorkton.

2nd End: Mama said knock you out

Unlike the other six events in the series featuring round-robin play, the preliminary for the Meridian Canadian Open is a triple knockout. Although it’s a common format on the World Curling Tour, if you’re not too familiar here’s the 411.

All 16 teams start in one of two brackets in the A group. Winners stay in A while losers drop to B. Likewise the winners in B continue their path there and the losers fall to C. The C-side is where things get dicey with winners having one last road to qualifying for the playoffs while another loss is an automatic elimination.

Essentially it comes down to this: win three games before you lose three in order to advance to the playoffs.

Two teams qualify for the playoffs via the A stage, three from B and another trio from C.

3rd End: Bracketology 101

How a team qualifies usually shows whether they’re hot out of the gate (A-side) or need a wakeup call and have to be in that sink-or-swim situation (C-side). Then there’s that fine middle ground with a little of column A and a little of column C (B-side).

A-teams get the luxury of playing only three preliminary games and can sit back and rest for a bit before the playoffs whereas the C-teams have to grind it out all the way as late as Saturday morning before having to go right back out there for the quarterfinals that afternoon.

Teams also can’t plan too far ahead who their opponents are with only the first round of matches set.

This is just the third season since the Meridian Canadian Open format changed to triple knockout so it doesn’t take a very smart math guy to analyze the road to the championship game.

Year Winner Qualified Runner-up Qualified
2015 John Epping A Brad Gushue A
2015 Rachel Homan B Jennifer Jones A
2014 Brad Gushue C Steve Laycock B
2014 Eve Muirhead B Rachel Homan A

Final tally: that’s four A teams, three from B and just one from C, although it did result in a championship for Gushue. It’ll be intriguing to see which roads this year’s finalists emerge from.

4th End: Qualification changes

The process for inviting teams to the Meridian Canadian Open was altered over the summer. Previous years featured 15 teams invited based on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit plus one spot reserved for a sponsor’s exemption (if it wasn’t applied then the next team on the OOM would receive an invite).

For this year’s Meridian Canadian Open only seven teams were taken from the OOM with another seven decided based on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date rankings to reward teams who have done well in the first-half of the season. Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., benefited from the rule change and will make her elite-level Grand Slam debut thanks to an impressive run winning three titles on tour.

One spot was granted to the Tour Challenge Tier 2 winner and another for a sponsor’s exemption.

5th End: Tour Challenge Tier 2 winners & sponsor’s exemption

Two Ontario teams return to the elite level of the Pinty’s GSOC series thanks to their Tour Challenge Tier 2 victories. Greg Balsdon and Jacqueline Harrison took home the titles two months ago in Cranbrook, B.C.

The sponsor’s exemption was used on the men’s side to invite Bruce Korte of Saskatoon. Korte is one of the “Original 18” skips of the series and won the inaugural Masters title in 2002.

6th End: Men’s Division storylines

Gushue has been a finalist at the past three Canadian Open tournaments and looks to keep the streak going. The six-time Pinty’s GSOC event winner from St. John’s, N.L., made his season debut just before the holidays at the Boost National after missing the first eight events of the year due to a hip/groin issue.

Speaking of the previous Grand Slam, Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., enters with a confidence “boost” so to speak after winning the National in his hometown last month. Runner-up Reid Carruthers of Winnipeg had a December to remember by also claiming the Canada Cup to secure a spot in the Olympic Trials.

Being the reigning champ should give Epping some extra motivation to defend the title and as we saw last season once his team is on fire there’s little chance for teams to cool them down.

7th End: Women’s Division storylines

Homan is ranked No. 1 on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit and has been a Canadian Open finalist during the previous two seasons the women’s division has been included at the event.

Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson cleared a major hurdle winning her first Grand Slam title at the Boost National and proved her team can hang with the best of them.

Allison Flaxey of Caledon, Ont., and Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg have had strong seasons, but they also missed the playoffs at the Boost National. They’ll both aim to get back on track.

Silvana Tirinzoni relied on Cathy Overton-Clapham to reach the Boost National final. The Swiss skip will turn to the “super spare” once again with third Manuela Siegrist still on the mend due to a knee injury.

8th End: Tickets & TV

It’s shaping up to be a packed house at the Civic Centre in North Battleford. Don’t miss out, visit canadianopen.goigniter.com to purchase your tickets online or call 306-445-7827.

If you can’t make it to North Battleford, TV coverage begins Thursday at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sportsnet. Click here for the full TV schedule. Watch online and mobile with Sportsnet NOW, click here to subscribe today and get your first seven days free.

Article Written by Jonathan Brazeau of Sportsnet