2017 Scotties: Rachel Homan pulls out victory from the outposts of geometry

(Full disclosure: I missed the first seven ends of this since I was desperately roped into a mixed doubles game — my first ever — as a sub at the last second. I played the woman.)

(Video highlights @ TSN)

For those who like football, I’ve heard a lot saying that this was the best Super Bowl ever. An overtime game and a comeback will do that for you. We had 3–1 comebacks in the World Series and NBA Finals, too. And while we didn’t have a 3–1 comeback in the Scotties final (though it was close!) it will go down as the best curling championship match in quite some time.

And it was the two best teams all week, one of them widely known (and long together), the other took just one year to take shape.

Everybody in the curling world knew Team Rachel Homan from Ontario; two-time Scotties champ; two seasons at #1 on the WCT; five Grand Slam titles, and breaking the glass ceiling by playing in last year’s Elite 10 against the men, beating a top 10 men’s team in the process. They can (and do) make all the shots with flash, polish, poise and maturity beyond their years. Homan and Emma Miskew have been playing together since practically the nursery. Lisa Weagle has nearly eponymized the tick shot. And Joanne Courtney is one of the game’s top brushers and seconds. If they cross through to the Olympics they’re almost certainly going to become stars beyond the sport.

Other other side, a team that took a completely different side street to get here. Team Manitoba was led by Michelle Englot, a 53-year-old veteran skip who herself was recruited from a great career in Saskatchewan to helm the remnants of the retired Kristy McDonald team — Kate Cameron, Leslie Wilson and Raunora Westcott. It took just one year for the team to jell, reach a Grand Slam final and be the first team to win Manitoba with Jennifer Jones in the field in 13 years.

Through all the new faces against a small cadre of elite teams, it was Englot, a blend of the two factions yet still a dark horse entering St. Catharine’s, whose lone loss to Team Canada (itself a near-miraculous comeback) getting them the #1 seed. They started off with a wild 9–8 win over Ontario, its second win over them as many days, and waited out Saturday as Ontario bounced back to the final with a strong 7–5 win over Northern Ontario. We knew it was going to take even more magic to beat Homan three times in a weekend. (In fact, Englot was only one of two teams to beat Homan three times all season, and Jacqueline Harrison was not walking through that door.)

As for the game itself, it had so much: a cross-house double for three points to take that notorious 3–1 lead in the second. While I admit to not seeing the game at the time, I probably would have felt that even at that stage, the lead was insurmountable — probably more so when Manitoba responded with a force point in the third.

Then came Manitoba. Blank, steal, blank, steal. Manitoba has the freaking lead. Here we go again, Homan was gonna take another L, right?

And then Ontario responded with a deuce in the eighth, although for sure they had an opportunity for three.

Then the ninth end looked like the pivotal one, as it so often is. Miskew froze a stone to the button, but Kate Cameron had a ridiculously good runback to pick it out clean. I do not know how she did that but I didn’t know much about her before the Scotties, but oh boy does the 25-year-old third have a hell of a curling career ahead of her. Homan responded with an even better-angled freeze. Englot was less equipped for upweight shots. She tried basically two attempts at a pick and went wide on the first, narrow on the second. It was a big steal of one for Ontario, taking a two-point lead and leaving Manitoba with hammer. Even if they got two (not out of the question), stealing in the 11th seemed nearly impossible, even for Manitoba, the stealingest team on the week.

Of course, if Manitoba would have scored three…

How do you make two go away?

Without a doubt it was an abysmal 10th end for Ontario. A corner guard peel that turned into another corner guard, a double attempt that only took one a single … on and on. It left Englot with a hit and little roll into this situation, which put the percentages of Homan losing the Scotties way high.

The odds of making it? I’d say given her repertoire she makes this 2 out of 10 times. Many other skips, probably 1 to 1.5 out of 10. So, a .200 batter up against a league average pitcher. But baseball is a bad example, since it was a miss-and-you-lose shot. Maybe compare it to a basketball power forward needing to sink an off-balance three-pointer at the buzzer to tie.

Homan opted to go for the “easier” double, a sliver of the shot stone into the one on the back 12. They had Courtney and Weagle go ballistic on the stone and due to their immense sweeping, well they certainly helped save it, but to be honest it was almost overswept.

(Looking back, a freeze to the eight-footer might’ve been the more sensible call, because it would have forced Englot to at least make an above-average difficult play on it for three, rather than an open draw. That would have been way less exciting, of course, and maybe it’s because Homan had trouble with making out-turn draws that night. Or maybe it’s because Homan just goes big or goes home. Pick your narrative.)

That might’ve been the pivotal moment, but Ontario still had to get their point. In the extra frame they made their shots and left themselves with a pretty basic (for them) runback. It was probably 50–50 for other Scotties skips, but it felt damn near automatic for Rachel, given how the night was going.

That’s three Scotties for the Homan team, the youngest skip to ever win three titles (men’s or women’s). It was the first one since they onboarded Courtney and vaulted them into the #1 YTD standings, poetically over Jennifer Jones. It makes them the world women’s favorite, because that’s what you do when you put on a maple leaf. Muirhead, Pätz and Hasselborg are going to stand in their way, but the Homan team is just one better on paper and in practice at the one through four spots. Watch the hell out, world.

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