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.
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.
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.
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.
As with any televised match, there was a brief wait for the broadcast to be ready for the players.
Soon enough, the rinks took to the ice to await the start of the match.
Before long, action was underway. I took a lot of pictures this match, including one of every player throwing a shot.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Phil 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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