North America approaching points record at WFG Continental Cup

This is possibly shaping up to be the most lopsided Continental Cup in history. Not that the victors are counting, mind you. With Team North America having already clinched the 2011World Financial Group Continental Cup, presented by Monsanto, on Saturday night against their Team World opponents, the ‘C’ women’s skins game on Sunday morning between Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard and China’s Bingyu Wang didn’t hold much in the way of meaning. Mind you, Bernard and Co. found plenty of reasons to perform during their 42-13 victory . . . but surpassing the record 290 points counted by North America during the 2007 edition at Medicine Hat, Alta., wasn’t one of them. “No. We didn’t talk about that. It’s been a great weekend, and that’s how we looked at it,” said Bernard, the 2010 Olympic silver medallist at Vancouver. Getting motivated for Sunday’s skins encounter was “tough,” she admitted. “But we looked at it as practice for the TSN Skins Game next weekend (Jan. 22 and 23 at Rama, Ont.), so it was good that way. “And it’s pride. You don’t want to lose those games; it doesn’t matter if it’s worth nothing.” The first team to reach 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.

Bingyu Wang at the Continental Cup

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. North America had punctuated victory on Saturday night during ‘B’ skins action, with all three outfits — men, women, and mixed — stealing the necessary points in respective eighth ends to put the Can-Am gang over the top with 217 points, compared to the World’s 73. Heading into the final event of the weekend, Sunday’s ‘C’ men’s skins game between North America’s Kevin Martin and the World’s Thomas Ulsrud at 6 p.m. MT, North America now leads 259 to 86. Martin needs 32 of the 55 points on the table to give his squad the biggest margin of victory in the seven editions of the Continental Cup. Sunday morning’s showdown at Servus Credit Union Place started out favourably for Wang’s Harbin-based crew, which includes third Yin Liu, second Qingshuang Yue, and lead Yan Zhou. Wang counted 13 points in the third end when she used her final brick to hit her own stone, roll to the button, and move a red North American rock enough to count two. But from there, it was all North America, featuring Bernard, third Susan O’Connor, second Carolyn Darbyshire, and lead Cori Morris. Bernard struck back with six points in the fourth with a double takeout to count two. In the fifth, Wang wrecked on a guard trying to count a second stone, resulting in a carryover, and Bernard rang up 14 more points in the sixth after Wang was too heavy on a draw. Wang’s woes continued in the seventh and eighth ends, allowing Bernard to steal 10 and 12 points, respectively. In the seventh, Wang was light trying to draw to the button; in the final end, she attempted another draw, but knocked her own rock back to rest harmlessly in the outside of the eight-foot ring. “We tried to win some more points, to get the 55 . . . but the last four ends were not very good,” said Wang. “I was always trying to find the right weight, and I could feel the ice changing. We made a lot of mistakes.” Said Bernard: “The ice was screamin’ fast. Way faster than it had been all weekend. But we were starting to figure it out and know what we wanted to do. I’m starting to look forward to next weekend (a TSN Skins Game semifinal against Martin). We have nothing to lose. They have a lot.” The North Americans had charged out of the gate at St. Albert and still haven’t looked back, to the dismay of the World crew. Can Bernard put her finger on the reason? “I think we all really gelled together. The people who’d been (at a Continental Cup) before told those of us who hadn’t what we had to do, the important things,” said Bernard. “And the ice was . . . amazing, which was really great for us. We love this kind of ice. “Maybe (the Team World) curlers don’t love it as much, or didn’t catch on to it as quick. But I think the North American team gelled together and supported each other. It’s been really fun.”