The Premier Hockey Federation has introduced Reagan Carey as its new commissioner, while Digit Murphy
The conclusion of the round robin portion of the mixed doubles curling competition was unpredictable and captivating. Action kicked off on the second last day of round robin play with the stunning announcement that Australia was disqualified due to a positive COVID-19 test from Tahli Gill. Gill had previously tested positive before the Olympics but had subsequently returned negative test results. Her positive test Saturday appeared to seal her fate. Gill and teammate Dean Hewitt were set to return to Australia when a last-minute review by the Medical Expert Panel ruled in their favor and the team was reinstated after a decision that Gill was no longer infectious.
The Australian team had just 15 minutes to make it to the Ice Cube for their match against the Swiss after initially having their Sunday matches against Switzerland and Canada forfeited. While ultimately a positive decision for the Australians, the decision-making process left much to be desired and seriously disadvantaged both sides.
But Gill and Hewitt stormed out to a 3-0 led against the Swiss, before scoring 6 in the final three ends to secure their first win of the tournament, and Australia's first ever Olympic curling victory. The final score was 9-6 over Switzerland's Jenny Perret and Martin Rios.
They weren't done yet, though. The Australian team finished the day with a dramatic 10-8 extra end victory against Canada. It was another impressive start for Hewitt and Gill, who led 7-0 at the break. But Canadian pair Rachel Homan and John Morris scored 4 in the fifth, 3 in the seventh, and stole 1 in the eighth to push the game to extras. While most will point to Homan's heavy final shot in the extra end as the decisive blow, Gill's excellent draw for a single point in the sixth prevented a big stolen end for Canada and was one of the keys to victory.
With their victory over Canada, Gill and Hewitt wrapped up their Olympic tournament 2-7. At first glance, these two wins on their final day of competition seem against the run of play, but the Australians were a tougher opponent than their record suggested. They could have won their first game of the tournament against the Americans, but Gill missed a draw with her final shot, allowing the United States to steal a point and the victory. It was the first indication they would be a difficult opponent. Gill and Hewitt would lose four games by just one point.
That said, it's hard to view Australia's victory over Canada as anything but an upset. Mixed doubles is a grueling game both physically and mentally. Canada had just secured an emotional win a few hours earlier against the Czech Republic. Morris had also previously commented that facing close friends Gill and Hewitt would be the hardest match for him mentally. Both of these things most likely factored into the result. Still, it's a game a team of Canada's calibre should be winning.
The day wasn't without thrills for Homan and Morris. Canada-Czech Republic was a nail-biter and an excellent example of the excitement mixed doubles offers. Both Homan and Morris were excellent throughout the game, curling 83% and 81% respectively. But southpaw Zuzana Paulova was more than equal to them, curling a dominant 87% and shooting an impressive 100% on her draws. She was the start of the game and routinely bailed out partner Thomas Paul, who was shooting just 70%.
Paulova's draws were almost enough to snatch the game from the Canadians and keep the Czech Republic's hopes of advancing to the medal round alive. Battling the clock, Canada rushed through most of the seventh and eighth ends, leaving Homan with less than 25 seconds to make the final, decisive in-turn draw for two to send the game to extras. It was almost not to be. With Homan in the hack, Morris was watching the seconds on the clock tick down, urging her to "go, go, go." A rushed Homan pushed off with just 1 second on the clock, but despite the tension, she made the perfect shot to score two. After the end, Homan joked with her partner that she "felt like Kevin Koe."  In extras, a mistake by Paul with his fourth stone gave Canada shot stone, and Homan's final shot takeout allowed Canada to lie two, putting the pressure on Paulova. Paulova was ultimately unable to make the double takeout, giving Canada the 7-5 win.
At 5-2, the Canadians were well-positioned to make the medal round, but their subsequent loss to the Australians meant everything came down to the final match of the round robin against the undefeated Italians. The teams traded points in the first three ends, but Italy was able to steal 2 in the fourth when Homan was unable to tap the two Italian stones sitting on the button. A Homan draw with her last stone in the seventh scored three using the power play to go up 7-5. The Italians tied it up in the next end, scoring two on the power play and sending it to extras. Drawing against a full 4-foot with Canad's last stone, Homan's shot fell just short. And when I say just short, I mean just short. The official measured twice, and the Italian stone was a just about a millimeter closer to the button. This was heartbreak for the Canadians as it meant their Olympics was over. While the Italians had already qualified for the knockout round, this measurement was also very important for them, as it secured their perfect 9-0 record in the round robin and meant they would start the semifinals undefeated.
This was a close, hard-fought game by Homan and Morris against the best team in the tournament, but it revealed some of the issues that had been dogging the Canadian pair. Morris was at times extremely resistant to listening to Homan's calls and shot suggestions. That's not to say that Homan was perfect (she wasn't) but Morris frequently dismissed her suggestions, despite the fact that she's one of the most accomplished skips in Canadian curling and has decades of experience in the position. The most glaring example of this was in the fourth end against Italy when Homan warned about the freeze possibilities created by Morris' preferred runback attempt and he dismissed her warning, confidently asserting he could make both shots, the one he was suggesting and the more conservative shot she wanted him to play, so it wasn's a problem. But after insisting on his preferred shot, his throw did exactly what she warned about and once again raised the difficulty for her final shot. This happened many times during the tournament and is, in my opinion, the main reason they struggled to find consistent form. I suspect Homan will take most of the blame for their poor showing from Canadian curling fans (based primarily on her poor performance in 2018), but her partner did her no favors.
With Canada's loss, The Swedish team advanced to the semis with a 5-4 record to face Italy as the result of tiebreaker protocols (Canada had the same win-loss record, but had lost to Sweden in round robin). It was simply a dominant performance from the Italians. En route to their 8-1 victory, the Italians stole in four straight ends, and it was handshakes after seven.
The other semifinal between Great Britain and Norway was a much tighter affair, with the Norwegians winning 6-5. The power play made all the difference in this game, with Kristin Skaslien drawing to the 4-foot and delivering 3 points in the sixth end. Great Britain responded by calling their own power play but failed to capitalize on it. Jennifer Dodds struggled in this game, missing a double takeout with her final shot in the sixth but it was Bruce Mouat who couldn't quite make any of his shots in the seventh end. Facing two, Dodds drew to the button to score one, but that's not good enough when using the power play. Norway won it in eight, after Dodds scuffed her draw, leaving Skaslien an open draw to the button for one and a trip to the gold medal game.
The bronze medal game was a decidedly one-sided affair, with Sweden winning 9-3. GB scored one with hammer in the first end, but that was it for the positivity. Sweden scored 4 with hammer in the second end, punctuated by an excellent Almida De Val double takeout with her last shot. Sweden kept the pressure on in three, where Dodds continued to struggle. Facing three Swedish stones in the 4-foot, Dodds' draw for one with her final shot of the end came up short, and Sweden took a 7-1 lead after three. Sweden continued the robbery, stealing singles in the next two ends. GB finally scored again, adding two in the sixth end before shaking hands. It was a disappointing end to the match for Great Britain and, taken as a whole, a disappointing tournament for the reigning world champions.
Italy's performance in the gold medal game was as comfortable as we've come to expect from the young pair after a surprising difficult first end. With hammer and facing two Norwegian stones in the 4-foot, Stefania Constantini, who led all women by shooting 80% in the tournament, had a rare miss when her outturn draw fell just short of the mark. But the Italians weren't thrown off their game by the rare steal and 2-0 deficit, replying with two of their own in the second end.
A mistake by Norway's Magnus Nedregotten proved costly in the third. Nedregotten, who led all men with 83% percent shooting during the spiel, tried a hard, double takeout to clear the house. Unfortunately, the outturn shot failed, pushing two Italian stones into better position. With her final shot of the end, Constantini made a perfect draw to the button to lie four. Kristin Skaslien bailed Nedregotten out, with a tap to remove 3 Italian stones and ensure the Norwegians only gave up a steal of one.
The fourth end was the pivotal one in the game and predictably, Italy came out on top. After Amos Mosaner set up the end with a draw and two guards, Constantini executed another excellent draw to the button to lie 3. Skaslien tried a raise off the Norwegian guard, but missed, giving the Italians three points, and a 6-2 lead heading into the break.
From there the Italians were in cruise control. The Norwegians used their power play in the fifth end, but the Italians were ready for it, playing excellent defense and forcing Skaslien to draw against four for just a single point. The teams traded points in the sixth and seventh ends, with Italy comfortably in front 7-5 with hammer going into the eighth. Italy utilized their power play as a defensive measure in eight and it worked. Facing two with an open draw with her last throw, Constantini chose to execute a perfect double takeout, removing the Norwegian stones in the 8-foot. It was the kind of shot and display of accuracy we have come to expect from Constantini, and it was a fitting shot to clinch the gold medal for Italian pair.
Losing a gold medal game always carries with it a certain amount of disappointment, but the Norwegian pair have lots to be proud of. Losing 3 of their first 4 games to start the tournament, Skaslien and Nedregotten essentially had to run the table to overcome their poor start, and did, winning their remaining 5 games. Beating the current world champions to make it to the final is also an impressive feat. I'm glad Norway was able to improve on its bronze medal finish from Pyeongchang. What's even better is the pair got the podium moment they were denied in 2018 because of Alexander Krushelnitsky's doping offense.
With the victory the Italians not only won the first Italian medal of any colour in a major international curling tournament, they were also just the third curing team (after Canada's Kevin Martin in 2010 and Canada's Jennifer Jones in 2014) to finish with a perfect record. Even that stat doesn't really convey their dominance this week. In a difficult field where every other team had problems with consistency, the Italians stood out for their consistency and accuracy. While Mosaner held his own with world champion Mouat and world and Olympic champ Morris, shooting 81%, it was Constantini who was the player of the tournament for me. She shot 86% on draws, obliterating the field, which kept the pressure on opponents and bailed her teammate out of trouble as well. At just 22, it was an exciting performance from a curler who has now announced herself on the world stage.
I'm absolutely thrilled with this result. While my rooting interest in curling will always be with Canada, the best team of the tournament won the gold medal. That it comes from a curling middleweight, a county that has never before medaled at the Worlds or the Olympics, is even better. Mixed doubles grows the game. When the world sees Italy beat curling's traditional powers like Great Britain, Sweden, Canada, and Switzerland, it opens doors. On top of that, the next Winter Olympics in 2026 will be hosted by Italy, in both Milan and Constantini's hometown of Cortina d'Ampezzo. This is potentially the start of something truly special in Italian curling.
 This is actually an excellent Canadian curling joke. Kevin Koe is a 4-time Canadian and 2-time world champion and was Canada's skip at the 2018 Olympics in the men's competition. Notorious for his protracted shot choice discussions, he often has to rush his shots to beat the clock in games.
(Photo: TSN Curling/The Canadian Press)
Filed under: curling; mixed doubles curling; rachel homan; john morris; zuzana paulova; thomas paul; tahli gill; dean hewitt; team australia; team czech republic; team canada; team italy; stefania constantini; amos mosaner; team norway; kristin skaslien; magnus nedregotten
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