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Jacobs holds off Howard to start Meridian Canadian Open

YORKTON, Sask. — It’s back to business following the holiday break in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling and Team Brad Jacobs picked up right where they left off in the win column.

After closing out the calendar capturing back-to-back men’s titles in the elite series, Team Jacobs topped Team Glenn Howard 7-5 Tuesday night to kickstart the 2020 Meridian Canadian Open at the Gallagher Centre.

Team Jacobs held the hammer in the final frame of the all-Ontario battle all tied up but didn’t need to make a heroic winning shot. The Sault Ste. Marie crew already sat two stones partially covered under a guard and Howard, from Penetanguishene, was unable to outcount them attempting a tricky in-off that missed the mark and clicked over top of the pair.

“It’s great to be back,” said Jacobs, who is seeking a third-consecutive GSOC men’s title following championship victories at the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge and BOOST National. “We were excited to come here to Yorkton to play, especially after a month off. It was nice to get that refresher and recharge over the holidays and get some work in, some good practise.

“A big first win for us. Howard is always a tough opponent. It was a good game back and forth. Both teams had chances and I thought both teams played pretty well. We’re just fortunate to get the win today.”

Howard claimed the hammer to start and capitalized in the first frame. Jacobs flashed his first skip stone allowing Howard to draw to the other side of the rings and set up his eventual deuce.

The 2014 Olympic gold medallist Jacobs bounced right back with a solid second stanza. Howard double jammed on his last and Jacobs knocked out the counter to score three and take the lead.

Jacobs managed to steal a point in the fourth to make it 4-2 after both of Howard’s skip stones sailed through the house. The teams traded single points in five and six and Howard got his equalizing two points in seven, but handed Jacobs the hammer for the decisive end.

Getting a handle of the ice as soon as possible in the first game is key and Jacobs believes his team did a good job of accomplishing that.

“Everybody had that mindset going in: let’s get a handle on the ice, get a good read and a good map of the sheet,” he said. “We knew that would be important for making shots and putting points on the scoreboard. We did a really good job of that and hopefully, we can keep that going.”

Elsewhere in the opening draw, Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., stopped Winnipeg’s Team Jason Gunnlaugson 6-2. Team Gushue fired 91 per cent as a unit with their skip setting the pace with a practically perfect 99 per cent clip.

“It’s nice being back at Slams,” Gushue said. “It’s a different feeling when you show up at these and some other events, at least for me being at my age now and I get a little bit more up for these events than I do some others. It’s nice to come out here and play on some good ice in front of a good crowd and also to play a good game, so it feels great.”

Gushue, who has won 11 GSOC men’s titles, has had success at the Gallagher Centre in the past capturing the Meridian Canadian Open in this very rink in 2014 and finishing runner-up the following year. If only it wasn’t 30 below zero outside.

“I just wish they’d turn the temperature up here, it’s really cold,” Gushue said with a laugh. “Yorkton has been good, we’ve always played good, we feel good in this building, the ice is always good here. There are never any worries about frost on this ice. Obviously, outside there’s tons. You just know that if throw a good rock, you’re going to be rewarded. It’s always been the case in this building and it seemed like it tonight as well.”

The Meridian Canadian Open is the only event in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling to use triple knockout for preliminary play. Teams must win three games before they lose three games in order to qualify for the weekend playoffs. Each loss drops teams to a lower bracket until they are eliminated. Two A-qualifiers (3-0 records), three B-qualifiers (3-1 records) and three C-qualifiers (3-2 records) advance to the quarterfinals in both men’s and women’s divisions.

Both Jacobs and Gushue like the different format.

“We do get used to playing the round-robin type format often,” Jacobs said. “When the world rankings don’t change a whole lot, you seem to play the same teams often. Certainly, it’s nice to have a little bit of a change coming into this event with the triple knockout. I don’t even know who our opponent is now but looking forward to getting out there tomorrow and playing hard against whoever it is.”

Gushue added: “Fortunately, the way the Slams are right now, it’s still pretty similar. You’ve got to win three games before you lose three, which is very similar in the round-robin. Generally, if you go 2-2 you’ve got to win that tiebreaker to go 3-2, so it’s not much difference. The only real difference for us is you don’t know when you’re playing, so you can’t prepare your days until the day before. That’s not a big issue, so I do enjoy the triple. I’d love to see another couple of those in there but I don’t make those decisions.”

Team Jacobs will take on Team Yannick Schwaller of Switzerland, who upended Winnipeg’s Team Mike McEwen 6-2. Gushue’s next opponent is Team Ross Paterson after the Scottish side beat defending champions Team Brendan Bottcher from Edmonton 7-5.

Toronto’s Team John Epping also edged Saskatoon’s Team Kirk Muyres 5-4.

Meridian Canadian Open action resumes Wednesday at 8 a.m. CT. Broadcast coverage begins Thursday at 1 p.m. ET on Sportsnet with online streaming via Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).

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.