YORKTON, Sask. — New year, same Team Brad Jacobs.
The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., crew kicked off 2020 reaching their third consecutive Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling men’s final beating Winnipeg’s Team Mike McEwen 6-3 Saturday in the Meridian Canadian Open semifinals at the Gallagher Centre.
Jacobs isn’t content with just reaching another final though. He’s also looking to make it three consecutive GSOC title wins following championship victories at the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge and BOOST National to finish 2019.
“The boys have been playing great,” Jacobs said. “It feels well-deserved. I think we’ve got a really good handle on the ice and everybody is in a really good frame of mind. We’re really working well together as a team.
“To be honest with you, the way that we’ve been playing, I’m not surprised that we’re here again but we’re not proud of just making finals. We want to win these things, so we’ll be excited to get out there tomorrow and have another opportunity at a Grand Slam title and we’ll be playing hard for it.”
The 2014 Olympic gold medallist Jacobs will take on Team John Epping after the Toronto squad outduelled Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., 7-4.
“It feels awesome, especially after the last couple of Slams we haven’t qualified for the playoffs,” an ecstatic Epping said. “That feels really good to make the playoffs today and then have a good run. Our provincial playdown is coming up in a week, so it’s nice to have some momentum rolling into that.”
The semifinal contest was a repeat of the 2015 Meridian Canadian Open men’s final, held in this very rink, where Epping curled a perfect 100 per cent to outmatch Gushue.
“I love playing here,” Epping said. “The fans are great. They’re so respectful. They love curling and it’s always busy. There are lots of fans out even coming out when it’s that cold outside. I’ve had a lot of luck in Yorkton so far, great memories, and I love coming back to this building. It’s awesome.”
Team Jacobs enter the final undefeated after qualifying 3-0 through the A-side of the triple knockout preliminary round and also ousting Team Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., 8-4 earlier Saturday during the quarterfinals.
Jacobs had the juice scoring a deuce in the opening end against McEwen to set the tone and credits lead Ryan Harnden with setting that up off the bat.
“First end, Ryan made a great tick shot and then a great hit and roll to set up a deuce right from lead rocks,” Jacobs said. “It’s pretty tough to make all the shots necessary to hold that deuce when you split the rings early but we were able to do it and we were able to just manage the scoreboard well. We got good forces and bounced back with multiple points, so it was pretty ideal.”
The teams exchanged singles in two and three and McEwen was limited to another lone point in four as the seven-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling champion was chasing the whole way. Jacobs, who has won six titles in the series, converted for another deuce in five and stole one in six when McEwen was forced to draw against two and rubbed off of the second counter up top. McEwen was held to another single in seven and shook hands.
Team Epping advanced to the playoffs at 3-1 from the B-side and scored an 8-3 win over Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat in the quarterfinals. Gushue was cruising as the other undefeated A-qualifer and earned a decisive 6-1 victory over Switzerland’s Team Yannick Schwaller in the quarters.
Epping managed to wrestle control of the game early stealing a point in the second to open the scoring when Gushue’s last rock appeared to pick as it veered off the line. The 11-time GSOC title winner Gushue was then forced to one in the third to tie it 1-1 but lost control of the all-important hammer.
“Luckily, I made a couple of good ones in two, he had a tough draw and stealing a point and taking the hammer away is important,” Epping said. “Any time he scores a deuce early in the game, he’s really dangerous. They’re great front-runners and obviously that worked well.”
After Epping counted a couple in four, Gushue grabbed a pair of his own in five to keep pace then stole a point plus the lead in six. Epping attempted a runback but fired the raised stone right through the port.
Fortune favoured Epping in the seventh though with a rock pile forming in the house. Epping crashed the house party with his last scattering one of Gushue’s stones and nudging the other just enough to count a critical late score of four following a close measurement.
“The angles did end up working out,” Epping said. “We got lucky that Brad over-curled on his last one and left me a shot for what looked like three but ended up getting a little lucky and moving his over for four. Up three points coming home, that always feels a little more comfortable than up maybe one or two.”
Epping ran Gushue out of rocks in eight to ice the game and is expecting more of the same out of his opponent Sunday.
“They’re great front-runners, so any time they get ahead early they’re dangerous,” said Epping, who beat Jacobs to win the Shorty Jenkins Classic title in September. “Just be patient, see if we can get a force early then maybe grab a deuce and take some control away from them.
“I just look forward to playing really well tomorrow. I hope we have a great game. I hope my guys and myself, we just play well tomorrow. That’s all we can do and make our shots. We know they’re going to make lots of shots and they look like they’re hot out there right now.”
It is Epping’s first GSOC final with new third Ryan Fry, who parted ways with Team Jacobs after last season.
Watch the men’s final Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET / 2:30 p.m. CT on Sportsnet.
Meanwhile, Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg also continue their quest to make it three GSOC titles in a row on the women’s side. Hasselborg doubled up on Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa 10-5 in the semis to advance.
Their opponents captured a title during the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge too, coincidentally, although it was in the Tier 2 division.
South Korea’s Team Min Ji Kim, who earned a promotion to the top flight here with their Tier 2 victory, downed Russia’s Team Alina Kovaleva 7-1 to get into the championship game.
NOTES: The Meridian Canadian Open is the fourth event and third major of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season featuring 16 of the top men’s teams and 16 of the top women’s teams from around the world. … At stake is a $300,000 total purse, split equally between the men’s and women’s divisions, with the winners earning $35,000 plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup. … Also up for grabs are points towards the Pinty’s Cup, which is the season title awarded following the conclusion of the Princess Auto Players’ Championship in April.