PICTOU COUNTY, N.S. — It’s moments like these that remind Glenn Howard why he still curls at the elite level.
Howard and his Penetanguishene, Ont., team had to pull off the winning shot with the last rock of the game to defeat world No. 1 Team John Epping 5-4 during their round-robin match Friday in the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 1 men’s division.
Epping sat one lonely rock in the four-foot circle partially covered to force Howard to go for a draw. Sweepers Tim March and David Mathers pounded the ice back and forth as it was looking a little light and third Scott Howard jumped up from the house to help drag it for a piece of the button.
As Scott fist-pumped, his father Glenn was able to breathe a sigh of relief securing not only the victory but a playoff spot with a 3-1 record.
“You know what, this is why I curl,” the 57-year-old skip said. “The adrenaline is pumping, it’s so much fun. You’ve got the crowd, you’ve got a great facility, it’s against the best in the world, obviously against Johnny he’s No. 1 in the world.
“I just said to the boys give me a shot at the end. I obviously had to throw it well but I had thrown that draw a couple of times. Out of my hand, I really liked it, a little bit of a handle, which I was liking. … The boys realized it was a little light and made the shot for me. fortunately, I threw it close and they made it for me, which was awesome.”
Howard missed the season-opening Masters while away on a bucket list golf/curling trip to Scotland and is right back in the “Slam” of things.
“That’s right where we want to be,” Howard said. “We could always get better but we’re playing pretty solid and we’re handling the ice really well. It just feels so good. I love to win, I love to compete and this is a blast.”
Scott had moved up to skip the squad while Glenn was away with super spare Adam Spencer pinch-hitting at third. The elder Howard said he was obviously disappointed to miss the Masters but was pleased the boys handled things really well without him.
“They got to the quarterfinals and lost to Johnny but proud of them for stepping it up and getting ‘er done,” he said. “It’s nice for me to get back and I want to do some winning as well. We’re pretty solid and now where we want to be back in the playoffs.”
Team Epping dropped to a 1-2 record and must win their final round-robin match in the evening against Team Brad Gushue to stay in playoff contention.
Elsewhere in Draw 11, Team Brad Jacobs and his crew from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., are heating up heading into the playoffs after hammering home a berth with a 7-2 victory in only five ends over Team Matt Dunstone of Regina.
The defending men’s champions Team Jacobs dropped their opener to Team Brendan Bottcher but have now won three straight.
“That was really the thing that we talked about after our first game,” Team Jacobs second E.J. Harnden said. “We thought we played well, just a few miscues here and there and the Bottcher team played really great. For us, it was just trying to build momentum and hopefully, continue the good play into the playoffs.
“I feel like every game we’re getting stronger, a little bit more precise, good energy, good communication, and really good patience. Now, I think we feel like we’re doing all the right things heading into the playoffs, which is important.”
Jacobs shovelled a quarry of rocks into the house during the second end and put an early exclamation mark on the match with a nifty runback double to score six points. That took the wind right out of the sails of Team Dunstone, who recently captured the Masters but will miss the playoffs here with a 1-3 record.
“That was pretty much a complete end,” Harnden said. “We got a few mistakes and took advantage of the opportunity that the Dunstone team gave us on a few misses here and there. We got fortunate where Matt’s rock ended up allowing us to have that shot for six and then just finish it off with a great shot from Brad.
“A really, really good team end and whenever you can pick up a multiple score, let alone six, you’ve got to be happy with that.”
Obviously, Team Jacobs look to do well in every event they play in but there is a little extra motivation when the event’s title sponsor is one of their major sponsors, too.
“It’s great to know that we’ll be playing here on the weekend and hopefully we have a few more great games in us,” Harnden said. “It would be pretty special to win the event being a KIOTI-sponsored team and them sponsoring the Grand Slam event in particular, so hopefully we can do that.”
Bottcher, from Edmonton, finished pool play undefeated at 4-0 although they escaped by stealing single points in the eighth and extra ends to edge Winnipeg’s Team Jason Gunnlaugson 6-5.
Gunnlaugson remains in contention for now with a 2-2 record.
Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa stayed in the mix on the Tier 1 women’s side with a 7-2 decision over defending champions Team Rachel Homan of Ottawa. Both clubs finished round-robin play level with 2-2 records and await the results of the remaining women’s draw coming up to determine their fate.
Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones is also playing the waiting game at 2-2 after falling 9-3 to Japan’s Team Sayaka Yoshimura (1-3).
The Tier 1 divisions, featuring 15 of the top teams from around the globe based on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit, are split into three pools for round-robin play with the top eight overall qualifying for the weekend playoffs.
The Tier 2 divisions consist of 16 teams including the next 10 ranked teams on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit and six teams from within the event’s region.
Both quarterfinals and semifinals are scheduled for Saturday with the finals set for Sunday.
Round-robin action continues at 4 p.m. AT / 3 p.m. ET at the Pictou County Wellness Centre with broadcast coverage on Sportsnet. Online streaming is available via Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).
The KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge is the second of six events on the 2019-20 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling schedule. … Winners of the Tier 1 divisions earn $30,000 and berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup. … Also up for grabs in the Tier 1 only are Pinty’s Cup bonus points. The leaders following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April will capture the Pinty’s Cup with additional prize money awarded. … Winners of the Tier 2 divisions earn $10,000 and promotions to face the world’s best at the 2020 Meridian Canadian Open.