Contenders, dark horses all vying for women's title at second PointsBet Invitational
The first major event of the 2023-24 season has arrived with Curling Canada’s second annual PointsBet Invitational.
Sixteen men’s and women’s teams are set to compete in a do-or-die, single-elimination tournament with a $350,000 purse up for grabs from Sept. 27-Oct. 1 in Oakville, Ont.
The fields will consist of a wide array of teams from Canadian champions and top contenders to club champions and a selection of up-and-coming junior rinks looking to make some noise under the bright lights.
Jennifer Jones and Reid Carruthers won the inaugural PointsBet Invitational last year in Fredericton, N.B., and will look to defend their titles with tweaked lineups in Oakville.
Four straight wins is what it’s going to take to stand atop the podium by Sunday. All teams will receive $5,000 to cover travel and accommodation costs and will earn more cash after each win, with the champion men’s and women’s rinks earning a total of $50,000.
This season is once again filled with a bevy of juicy storylines, including David Murdoch’s first year as Curling Canada’s new Director of High Performance and the start of qualifying for the Canadian Olympic Trials. Many of Canada’s top teams will use the PointsBet Invitational as their first major event of another important curling campaign.
Let’s take a closer look at the first-round matchups on the women’s side and who may have the best path to the grand prize.
2023 PointsBet Invitational Bracket- Women
No. 1 Kerri Einarson (MB) vs. No. 16 Josie Zimmerman (AB)
Team Kerri Einarson
Team Einarson (Gimli Curling Club)
SKIP: Kerri Einarson THIRD: Val Sweeting SECOND: Shannon Birchard LEAD: Briane Harris
Team Zimmerman (University of Alberta)
SKIP: Josie Zimmerman THIRD: Bryn Woloshyn SECOND: Claire Bevan-Stewart LEAD: Darby-Anne Swanson
Kerri Einarson and the four-time defending Canadian women’s curling champions will arrive in Oakville as the No. 1 seed for the PointsBet Invitational.
Einarson’s crew also competed as the top seed at the inaugural PointsBet Invitational last year in Fredericton, N.B., defeating Team Tracy Larocque and Team Kelsey Rocque before falling to the eventual champions led by Jennifer Jones in the semifinal.
This year, Einarson and company will take on the winners of the Curling Canada College Championships in the form of Team Josie Zimmerman out of the University of Alberta.
Einarson’s lone bonspiel this season was the Saville Shootout in Edmonton where fellow PointsBet competitor in Team Serena Gray-Withers eliminated them in the quarterfinal round.
Winners of back-to-back bronze medals at the World Women’s Curing Championship, Team Einarson is more than likely to advance in this matchup and will take on the winner of Kayla Skrlik and Danielle Inglis in the Elite 8.
No. 8 Kayla Skrlik (AB) vs. No. 9 Danielle Inglis (ON)
Alberta Kayla Skrlik
Team Skrlik (Garrison Curling Club)
SKIP: Kayla Skrlik THIRD: Brittany Tran SECOND: Geri-Lynn Ramsay LEAD: Ashton Skrlik
Team Inglis (Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club)
SKIP: Danielle Inglis THIRD: Kira Brunton SECOND: Calissa Daly LEAD: Cassandra de Groot
Kayla Skrlik vs. Danielle Inglis could end up being one of the more evenly matched games in the Women’s Sweep 16.
Skrlik finished 10th on last year’s Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) while Inglis was just one spot behind at 11. Additionally, Inglis made the Ontario Scotties semifinal while Skrlik captured the Alberta provincial championship on a wild game-winner before posting a 4-4 record at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in her first appearance.
Both sides have already picked up victories on the young season, with Team Skrlik taking the opening event on the Alberta Curling Tour and Team Inglis winning the Summer Series in Quebec.
This one could go either way and there’s a good chance it comes down to the last shot.
The winner will likely have a date with the Canadian champions in the next round.
No. 5 Clancy Grandy (BC) vs. No. 12 Hollie Duncan (ON)
Team Grandy (Vancouver Curling Club)
SKIP: Clancy Grandy THIRD: Kayla MacMillan SECOND: Lindsay Dubue LEAD: Sarah Loken
Team Duncan (Woodstock Curling Centre)
SKIP: Hollie Duncan THIRD: Megan Balsdon SECOND: Rachelle Strybosch LEAD: Tess Guyatt
It will be the defending B.C. champions versus the finalists from Ontario in this Women’s Sweep 16 match.
Grandy, 32, made the Scotties playoffs last year in her debut at the event while Duncan, 36, lost to Rachel Homan in the Ontario final.
This season, Grandy and company's best finish has been a quarterfinal showing at the Shorty Jenkins while Team Duncan did the same at the KW Fall Classic.
Give Grandy the edge in this clash with the winner of Kaitlyn Lawes vs. Abby Marks on deck.
No. 4 Kaitlyn Lawes (MB) vs. No. 13 Abby Marks (AB)
Team Lawes (Fort Rouge Curling Club)
SKIP: Kaitlyn Lawes THIRD: Selena Njegovan SECOND: Jocelyn Peterman LEAD: Kristin MacCuish
Team Marks (Edmonton)
SKIP: Abby Marks THIRD: Elysa Crough SECOND: Kim Bonneau LEAD: Julianna Mackenzie
Team Kaitlyn Lawes was seeded second at last year’s PointsBet Invitational and made it to the semis where they lost to Team Casey Scheidegger.
Abby Marks and company earned their spot to this year’s PointsBet Invitational after making the final of the U25 NextGen Classic. Serena Gray-Withers defended her title in that final, but already qualified for the PointsBet previously, meaning Marks will get the spot.
Team Lawes went through a baby boom in 2022-23 in their first season as a foursome with Lawes, Selena Njegovan and Jocelyn Peterman all missing time with their pregnancies. As a result, Team Lawes had a handful of spares and different lineups throughout the season but should have their regular foursome for every event in 2023-24. That consistency will only help Team Lawes as they could be strong contenders to vie for Team Einarson’s crown at the Tournament of Hearts.
So far this season, Team Lawes has missed the playoffs at the Saville Shootout with a 2-3 record in their lone event.
Team Marks, meanwhile, have been a little busier with three bonspiels under their belt, highlighted by a quarterfinal showing at the Summer Series in late August.
As for the PointsBet, Lawes will be the strong favourties over Marks in the Sweep 16.
No. 6 Christina Black (NS) vs. No. 11 Nancy Martin (SK)
Team Black (Dartmouth Curling Club)
SKIP: Christina Black THIRD: Jennifer Baxter SECOND: Karlee Everist LEAD: Shelley Barker
Team Martin (Saskatchewan)
SKIP: Nancy Martin THIRD: Lindsay Bertsch SECOND: Madison Kleiter LEAD: Krysten Karwacki
Christina Black skipped her Nova Scotia rink to the final four at last year’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts, proving she can compete with the Rachel Homans and Kerri Einarsons of Canadian curling.
They’ll be looking for an improvement in their second appearance at the PointsBet Invitational after dropping their Sweep 16 matchup to Team Kelsey Rocque in 2022.
Nancy Martin led the highest-ranked women’s team (14th on the CTRS) in Saskatchewan last year but were upset by Team Robyn Silvernagle in the provincial final.
In 2023-24, Team Black’s best finish came at The Curling Store Cashspiel where they lost in the final.
Team Martin lost the Alberta Tour Kick-off final to Team Skrlik and then went 0-5 at the Saville Shootout before qualifying in back-to-back bonspiels ahead of the PointsBet.
Black is the odds-on favourite to take this clash but count on the veteran Martin to keep it close.
No. 3 Jennifer Jones (MB) vs. No. 14 Myla Plett (AB)
Team Jones (St. Vital & Alton Curling Club)
SKIP: Jennifer Jones THIRD: Karlee Burgess SECOND: Emily Zacharias LEAD: Lauren Lenentine
Team Plett (Airdrie/Sherwood Park)
SKIP: Myla Plett THIRD: Alyssa Nedohin SECOND: Chloe Fediuk LEAD: Allie Iskiw
Jennifer Jones is bringing back an almost identical lineup that won the PointsBet Invitational and reached the Scotties final last year.
In a surprising move, Mackenzie Zacharias decided to step away from curling at the end of last season, changing this fivesome into a foursome.
Despite the loss of the elder Zacharias sister, Team Jones remains a top contender in 2023-24 with their six-time Scotties champion skip leading the charge.
At the Saville Shootout earlier this month with Chelsea Carey filling in at skip, Team Jones made it to the final where they lost to Team Rachel Homan, skipped by Heather Nedohin. At the Shorty Jenkins Classic last weekend, they went 3-2, but failed to make the playoffs.
They’ll take on one of the best up-and-coming junior rinks in the game led by 18-year-old Myla Plett. The 2022-23 campaign was truly remarkable for Team Plett as not only did they win their second straight gold medal at the Canadian U18 Curling Championship, but they also captured the Canadian Junior Curling Championship (U21) as well. All of those achievements led them to winning Alberta Curling’s Team of the Year award, the second straight season they took home the honour.
Earlier this month at the U25 NextGen Classic, Team Plett posted a 2-3 record and missed the playoffs.
Jones vs. Plett will be a compelling matchup between the stars of today taking on the stars of tomorrow and a great early test for Team Plett to see how long they can hang with arguably the greatest curler to ever play the game.
Winner takes on the winning team from the Black vs. Martin contest in the Elite 8.
No. 7 Isabelle Ladouceur (ON) vs. No. 10 Serena Gray-Withers (AB)
Team Ladouceur (Whitby Curling Club)
SKIP: Isabelle Ladouceur THIRD: Grace Lloyd SECOND: Jamie Smith LEAD: Rachel Steele
Team Gray-Withers (University of Alberta)
SKIP: Serena Gray-Withers THIRD: Catherine Clifford SECOND: Brianna Cullen LEAD: Zoe Cinnamon
Here’s another pick’em.
On one side, 23-year-old Isabelle Ladouceur and her team out of the Whitby Curling Club is looking to build off a solid 2022-23 campaign in which they ranked ninth in Canada after a slew of strong finishes on Tour, highlighted by three victories. It was Ladouceur’s first year of curling after leaving the juniors ranks where she found plenty of success, winning the 2018 Canadian U18 Championship and also representing Canada at the 2022 World Junior Curling Championship where she finished with a 3-6 record.
In five events this season, Team Ladouceur has made the playoffs twice, losing in the quarterfinal round each time.
And on the other side we have 22-year-old Serena Gray-Withers and the 2023 Canadian USports champions out of the University of Alberta. Team Gray-Withers captured their second consecutive U25 NextGen Classic title earlier this month in Edmonton, beating Team Marks in the final. They also made the semis of the Saville Shootout.
Two young teams, who could both play significant roles as part of Canada’s next wave of talent in the women’s game, go head-to-head in the opening round of the PointsBet Invitational. This one will be interesting to watch and a difficult task to pick a winner.
No. 2 Rachel Homan (ON) vs. No. 15 Shaelyn Park (NB)
Team Homan (Ottawa Curling Club)
SKIP: Rachel Homan THIRD: Tracy Fleury SECOND: Emma Miskew LEAD: Sarah Wilkes
Team Park (Curl Moncton)
SKIP: Shaelyn Park THIRD: Krista Flanagan SECOND: Lynn L Leblanc LEAD: Shannon Tatlock
It’s been a newsy off-season for Team Rachel Homan this summer.
Not only did they return full skip duties to Homan and move Tracy Fleury to vice, but they named two-time Brier winner and Olympic silver medallist Don Bartlett as the team’s new coach, replacing the departing Ryan Fry.
As if that wasn’t enough, they also added a couple more fans to their squad with Sarah Wilkes giving birth to her first child in May before Homan had her third child earlier this month.
Homan missed the Saville Shootout – a bonspiel they won with Heather Nedohin skipping - but she will be back in the house and the hack at the PointsBet Invitational in Oakville.
In the Sweep 16, Homan and company will battle New Brunswick’s Team Shaelyn Park, the 2023 Canadian club champions.
At last year’s event, Team Homan, with Fleury calling the game, won their opener before falling to Team Casey Scheidegger in the Elite 8.
Fleury’s first season with Team Homan in 2022-23 had its fair share of bright spots with a pair of Grand Slam victories, but also some disappointments, highlighted by missing the page playoffs at the Scotties.
We’ll see if Homan’s return to shot caller is the tweak they need to return to the top of the mountain in Canadian curling.
Homan will be the heavy favourite over Park in this matchup as the winner will battle the victor of Ladouceur vs. Gray-Withers.