OAKVILLE, Ont. — Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe edged Winnipeg’s Team Mike McEwen 7-6 in an extra end Tuesday to remain in the A Event of the Masters at Sixteen Mile Sports Complex.
The season-opening Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament features a triple knockout stage where teams must win three games before they lose three in order to qualify for the playoffs.
It’s also the first GSOC event since January 2020 with fans in the stands. The Masters was cancelled last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and two GSOC events were held in the Calgary bubble in April that was closed to the public.
Team Koe second John Morris said it’s a way better atmosphere with fans cheering them on after every shot.
“I know that it’s still Tuesday, so we probably haven’t seen a lot of the fans in the GTA just yet but it feels great to have some fans back,” Morris said. “It’s a bit more normal, that’s what we like. We don’t like silence. In the bubble, you could hear a guy going to the washroom. It was so quiet.
“This is what we play for and it’s a lot more exciting for us to have some fans. This is great that the Slams are back and that we’re going to some great venues that are going to have some fans again.”
It was a back-and-forth battle between two of the top teams in Canada. Koe started with the hammer, but McEwen got on the board first with a steal in the opening end. The teams alternated deuces in the second and third and Koe took two more points in the fourth to take a 4-3 lead heading into the break.
After singles back and forth in the fifth and sixth, McEwen gave up a point in the seventh to fall behind 6-4 but retain the hammer for the eighth. The strategy paid off: Koe missed a runback in the eighth end that allowed McEwen to make an open hit and score the tying two points to force OT.
Tick shots are not allowed in the eighth or extra ends during the Masters, which was something that nearly cost Team Koe. However, Koe prevailed in the end bumping enough of McEwen’s shot rock and rolling just light enough to count.
“We didn’t read the rules properly, so we didn’t know about that tick shot in the extra end … but we battled,” Morris said. “(Third) BJ (Neufeld) made a wonderful double there in the extra and Kevin made a great last shot.
“Big win, now we’re still in A side. You always want to stay there as long as you can in this triple knockout format.”
Elsewhere the fourth draw, Team Matt Dunstone of Regina began their Masters title defence with a 7-3 win over Switzerland’s Team Peter de Cruz.
Dunstone captured his first GSOC men’s championship at the Masters two years ago in North Bay, Ont., and said it’s hard to believe.
“It feels like that was forever ago in North Bay, but we’re just so happy to be back,” Dunstone said. “To have fans in the stands here clap at the end of the game there, those are the things we certainly missed the last 18, 24 months or so. It feels really good to get off to a nice start here and hopefully keep going tomorrow.”
“You don’t appreciate something until it’s gone and we totally appreciate our fan support,” he added. “To have that back just gets you that much more motivated when you get in those moments to make a big shot. So, hopefully we get a chance to make a few of those big shots this week and relive those moments.”
Dunstone blanked the first couple ends and his patience paid off converting for a deuce in the third. De Cruz was held to single in the fourth and Dunstone pulled away with a three-ender in the fifth. De Cruz took two in the sixth but shook hands after Dunstone matched with a deuce in the seventh.
World No. 1 Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., defeated Japan’s Team Yuta Matsumura 5-3 and Winnipeg’s Team Jason Gunnlaugson topped reigning world champions Team Niklas Edin of Sweden 7-5.
The Masters resumes Wednesday with Draw 5 at 8 a.m. ET.
NOTES: The Masters is the first of five events on the 2021-22 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling schedule and features 16 of the top men’s teams and 16 of the top women’s teams from around the world. … Triple knockout play runs through to Saturday morning. The quarterfinals and semifinals are also Saturday with both finals set for Sunday. … Tickets are available at masters.goigniter.com. … Broadcast coverage begins Thursday at 11 a.m. ET on Sportsnet, Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).