North America closing in on Cup win

As he stepped off the ice at Servus Credit Union Place, it was suggested to David Murdoch that he’d just kept Team World’s ship afloat. “I think we’ve got a few too many leaks,” he countered with a laugh. Murdoch, the two-time world champion from Lockerbie, Scotland, won a big 12-point skin against North America’s Pete Fenson during the eighth and final end of the ‘A’ Men’s Skins Game on Saturday morning. But elsewhere, the results were rolling in for Team World at this 2011 World Financial Group Continental Cup, presented by Monsanto . . . and they weren’t encouraging. In the ‘A’ Women’s Skins Game, Erika Brown of Madison, Wis., blanked Germany’s Andrea Schoepp, picking up all 20 points available. And in the ‘A’ Mixed Skins Game, the North American team helmed by Edmonton’s Kevin Koe did the same to the World squad led by Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud. So even if Murdoch prevailed 17-3, North America outscored the World 43-17 during Saturday morning’s ‘A’ skins action . . . and now holds a commanding 133-35 lead after seven of 11 draws. The first team to 201 points wins this Season of Champions marquee event, based on a format similar to golf’s Ryder Cup, with team, singles, mixed doubles, and skins disciplines. “We got our points, there, but we really needed to take all (Saturday morning’s) skins on all the sheets, there, to get back into this Cup,” said Murdoch. “It’s a major mountain to climb now. That’s pretty much nailed the coffin, there, I think.” North America and the World have each won three of the previous six editions of the Continental Cup. The largest margin of victory came in Medicine Hat, Alta., in 2007, when North America won 290 to 110. In the skins discipline, teams must either score two points with the hammer or steal in order to collect the points allotted per end; otherwise, points are carried over. On Sheet A, Brown and her crew of Nina Spatola, Ann Swisshelm, and Laura Hallisey won skins in the first, second, fourth, sixth, and eighth . . . the last of which was worth 10 points, and came by virtue of Brown’s draw to the button for a deuce. Final score: North America 20, World 0. “It was fun to make a contribution to our cause,” said Brown. “With skins, there are a lot more rocks in play. You can be so aggressive, and take some chances. Definitely more aggressive a style than my team normally plays, certainly, so it’s a good opportunity to mix it up a little bit. “The team played great, all the way up the lineup. We had our weights down perfectly. Nina made some great shots at third. Everyone was right on.” In the men’s ‘A’ skins, Murdoch got his dozen in the eighth by raising his own rock into the 12-foot to count two stones against Fenson, whose American championship squad hails from Bemidji, Minn.

Erika Brown at the 2011 WFG Continental Cup

Murdoch, whose all-star team includes Switzerland’s Ralph Stoeckli, Germany’s Andreas Lang, and Switzerland’s Simon Struebin, also won skins in the second and fourth ends for his 17-point total, while Fenson won skins in the first and fifth ends for three points of his own. “Think, think, think. (Skins) hurts your head after a while. After two of these games today, I think I’ll need to get some Aspirin,” said Murdoch. “It’s a great format. I really enjoy it. It makes you think differently . . . a lot more stones ahead than you normally would.” As for the mixed ‘A’ skins showdown, Koe’s lineup included one member of his own team, Nolan Thiessen, at second, as well as third Susan O’Connor and lead Cori Morris from Cheryl Bernard’s 2010 Olympic silver medal-winning squad from Calgary. Koe and Co. took skins in the first, third, fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth ends. Ulsrud, whose team included third Carmen Schaefer (Switzerland), second Niklas Edin (Sweden), and lead Yin Liu (China), had one last shot at a six-point score when the eighth-end skin carried over into a post-game draw to the button. But his draw ground to a halt in the eight-foot ring, while Koe’s came to rest on the back of the lid. “You don’t expect to win ‘em all. You expect to have a tight game,” said Koe, the defending world men’s champ. “The beauty of skins, usually, is that you can have a bad end and come back. But fortunately for us, we didn’t have one today. “You want to play well. That’s the key. Winning (all the points) is, for sure, a bonus. We played well today, and we kind of deserved what we got. We had a couple of breaks in a couple of ends, but it was a solid effort.” Koe and O’Connor won a Canadian mixed title together in 2000, so there was some familiarity working in their favour Saturday morning. “It’s a comfort level. One of the things with this (Continental Cup) is that you start playing with people outside your normal team, and if you’re not careful, you start worrying too much about what the other people are thinking, instead of worrying about the game,” said Koe. “We were able to just go out there; we didn’t have to talk about strategy beforehand. It seemed there was a flow to the game, and just a big comfort level. “(Koe and O’Connor) won way back when, and it just seemed like it was yesterday, actually, once we got out there today.” Saturday’s eighth draw, which begins at 2 p.m. MT, will take a singles format (each member of the team throws at least one of the six required shots), with 32 points up for grabs. In the women’s event, Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott takes on Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones, Schoepp meets Bernard, and China’s Bingyu Wang takes on Brown. In the men’s event, the Edin and Fenson teams square off, as do Murdoch and 2010 Olympic gold medallist Kevin Martin, as well as Ulsrud and Koe.