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Eight Ends: All-in mentality pays off for Jacobs at Tour Challenge

Eight Ends is your weekly source for news, notes, insight, and analysis from around the curling world. This week’s edition features takeaways from the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge finals.

1st End: Brad Jacobs and his team decided to go big or go home in the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge and now they’re returning home with the title once again.

Quite literally as Jacobs took the trophy with him back to Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., after last year’s win and plans to do the same once more.

“I said I should have just left it at my house on my mantel,” Jacobs said with a laugh after a successful title defence. “I didn’t need to bring it back but I’ll take it.”

Jacobs upended Team Brad Gushue 6-4 in Sunday’s final to win his fifth career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title thanks to his team’s effort to go all in. Even when they whiffed, the ones that got away returned as they still found a way to snag those missing points in subsequent ends.

Jacobs pulled off a crazy angle-raise double in the second looking to score two and settled for a single, however, they got the extra point back in three on a steal. They were also on the verge of a big end in six that fell apart and led to them giving up a steal and trail by two points, but lo and behold they found themselves in a position to take on another risky raise in seven that led to a rewarding three points.

“The sport on the men’s side is so competitive, there’s so much parity, any time you have an opportunity, the fact of the matter is you just have to go for it and you have to execute,” Jacobs said. “If you do, you win and if you don’t, you lose. That’s the mentality that’s we’ve had. Hey, you know what? Sometimes we know it’s going to work in our favour and sometimes it’s not but hopefully, we can get our fair share.”

Resiliency was something Team Jacobs emphasized was key to their Stu Sells Toronto Tankard win last month and it showed here as well with their perseverance paying off.

“One of the things we were trying to work on was being a resilient team when things don’t go our way,” Team Jacobs third Marc Kennedy said. “What’s our next end look like? We had a tough luck in the sixth, something was building really nice and gave up a steal, so to come out in the seventh end, we made eight perfect shots. To get that three-ball was great. We’ve been doing that all year, so hopefully we can keep that up.”

Losing to eventual champions Team Matt Dunstone in the Masters quarterfinals two weeks ago in North Bay, Ont., sparked some motivation to not leave any gas in the tank when they crossed the finish line this time out.

“After we lost the quarterfinal in the Masters, we all decided we’ve got to play with a little bit more intensity, a little bit more fire and a little bit more urgency and just come out here and leave it all out on the sheet,” Jacobs said. “We lacked that at the Masters. I think that losing that quarterfinal was the best thing for us. It allowed us to come here and do all the right things, which propelled us to winning this event.”

2nd End: Kennedy is one of the most decorated curlers of all-time having won an Olympic gold medal plus multiple world and Brier championships. The Tour Challenge win was his 13th Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title after claiming 10 with Kevin Martin plus two more with Kevin Koe.

“What a guy, what a player and what a teammate,” Jacobs said. “I can’t say enough about him.”

Kennedy, from St. Albert, Alta., took a break from the sport last season although he subbed for Ryan Fry on Team Jacobs at the Canada Cup and captured that one as well.

Since returning to competitive curling and joining the 2014 Olympic gold medallists Team Jacobs full-time, it’s been instant chemistry. The revamped squad have been a force on tour with not only their aforementioned Stu Sells Toronto Tankard victory but also a runner-up result at the Shorty Jenkins Classic. Now add a GSOC title to the mix and you have quite the impressive run already into their tenure.

“This one is special,” Kennedy said. “It’s been a while since I’ve won one with taking last year off. This feels great.”

You have to wonder what the future holds and what other trophies will join the Tour Challenge one on the mantel in the Jacobs household.

“We’ll just hopefully keep building and keep getting better but I’m loving every minute playing with this team so far,” Kennedy said.

3rd End: Jacobs and Gushue never fail to entertain and the latest Battle of the Brads was epic from start to finish. It was hard to pick one shot of the week with so many insane runbacks and doubles through the men’s final as a call-and-response from both sides.

Jacobs’s angle raise takeout for three in the seventh earns extra points though as the game-breaker. Why settle drawing for a deuce when you can take on the raise takeout for three?

4th End: Team Jacobs now have their eyes on defending the Canada Cup, Nov. 27 to Dec. 1 in Leduc, Alta. Repeating there would guarantee them a spot in the next Olympic Trials.

We’re also now less than a month away from the next Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event with the series returning to Conception Bay South, N.L., for the BOOST National, Dec. 10-15., which leads us to …

5th End: Back-to-back runner-up results is still a solid effort for Team Gushue considering the quarterfinals were their enemy last season. The St. John’s, N.L., crew top the Pinty’s Cup points standings and even looked a lot sharper here than they did at the Masters where they finished second to Dunstone.

Team Gushue received quite the East Coast support at the Pictou County Wellness Centre but it’s going to be even more intense at CBS Arena right in their own backyard. As tuned up as they are, Team Gushue should put on quite a show for their local and loyal fans.

6th End: Team Hasselborg now return home not for rest and relaxation but for work with Sweden hosting the European Curling Championships. They aim to defend the title on home ice with their first game Saturday. Entering with a Grand Slam title win certainly has their spirits high to do just that.

“Of course it gives us really good confidence … so it’s really nice to know that we enter the pre-camp on Wednesday and then we can just move on from that,” Team Hasselborg third Sara McManus said.

7th End: History was made in the Tier 2 divisions with Team Korey Dropkin becoming the first U.S. men’s club to capture a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title while South Korea’s Team Min-Ji Kim became the first squad from Asia to earn a championship in the series.

Both now receive the opportunity to play against the world’s best at the 2020 Meridian Canadian Open. It’s a well-deserved reward to kick off the New Year, especially after seeing the strides Dropkin has made over the course of the season already from early struggles in Oakville, Ont., to figuring things out in Toronto reaching the semifinals of the Stu Sells Tankard to having all the pieces fall into place here.

“It’s incredible,” said Dropkin, who defeated Tanner Horgan’s team 5-4. “It’s so awesome. These guys have put in so much work the past several years. As a team just working on our dynamics on the ice, off the ice and really just doing what we can to make as many shots, make each shot as best as we can and really get as much as we can out of everyone on the ice. We just have so much trust and belief on this team and it’s fun battling with these guys. It’s pretty unbelievable right now.”

Team Horgan have also been grinding it out on tour this season and were on a roll winning the DEKALB Superspiel the weekend before and entered the final here undefeated. Horgan also made an insane shot during the semifinals en route to ousting defending champions Team Kirk Muyres.

“Lots of respect to them and hats off to them for such a great week,” Dropkin said. “We knew we were going to have to be on our game, on our A-game, I’m just happy that my guys were able to put together a really great game and give me an open hit for the last one. I’m definitely very grateful for that.”

8th End: Team Jacobs weren’t the only ones this week who performed at their best when the pressure was at its highest. Team Einarson have also found themselves excelling in situations when their backs against the wall.

Einarson started this week at 1-2 and turned things around with a two-win Friday including a victory over Team Robyn Silvernagle in a tiebreaker to qualify. It was reminiscent of their Players’ Championship run last season where they went 2-3 through pool play and still managed to qualify for the playoffs where they found that missing extra gear. Einarson captured that title defeating Team Hasselborg no less.

The tables were turned in the final this time, however, Team Einarson should still be proud of their performance this week, especially wrestling control of their playoff games against No. 1 seed Team Silvana Tirinzoni in the quarterfinals and Team Satsuki Fujisawa in the semis.

“We’re having really good rock placement and getting our rocks in just some really good spots and putting some pressure on the teams,” Einarson explained after Saturday’s semifinals. “Having to make them make the runbacks and the big shots.”