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McEwen steals playoff spot from Koe in Meridian Canadian Open

YORKTON, Sask. — Winnipeg’s Team Mike McEwen qualified for the Meridian Canadian Open playoffs after stealing single points in the eighth and extra ends to clip Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe 5-4 Friday.

It was looking like it was going to be game over for McEwen early as Koe was sharp out of the gate covering the pin in the draw-to-the-button shootout and converting for a three-count in the first.

McEwen said it was the most focused he’s seen his team complete a game following the “horrendous start.”

“We either didn’t know the ice or believe there were some tendencies on that sheet,” he said. “We got burnt in the first end. That could have been deflating and game over and might not even make five ends. That’s how those games can go. I think that’s what I was most impressed with.

“Whether we had pulled that game out or not, the fact that we took it eight and then nine ends, that took a lot of focus. That was probably the most impressive thing I thought from us as a foursome.”

After the teams traded points in the second and third ends, McEwen narrowed the gap to one in the fifth end with a double for a deuce to get on track.

“It gave us a chance,” McEwen said. “We were having trouble generating. When they’re on, their defence is very good. We weren’t generating much, so that was a big turning point, as far as the odds would go, to actually give us a chance. If we get forced late in the game there, they would have been I think up two with (the hammer) and that would have been pretty monumental to overcome that. Getting it to one point was huge.”

The reigning Pinty’s Cup champion Koe blanked back-to-back ends to retain the hammer for the eighth but had to make a double on his last and jammed it to give up a steal that forced the extra end. McEwen hit and rolled to the back of the four-foot circle and right under cover with his last in OT. That required Koe to draw, sweepers Colton Flasch and Ben Hebert brushed away furiously and third B.J. Neufeld jumped in to help, however, they were unable to bring it far enough.

“It doesn’t happen very often and it’s the calibre of teams, especially against Koe,” McEwen said. “That’s how good the entire Slam field is. You don’t steal very often back-to-back ends, so that was pretty special to do that.

“We got a little bit fortunate in eight. A pretty makeable shot, he didn’t throw it well, so we got a little fortunate on that steal. That was one of the better extra ends that we’ve played in a while and we got a break that they didn’t make the tick shot. That gave us a really good chance.

“We actually made eight shots in that end. If you make eight shots in an end, you usually have a pretty good chance. That was nice to convert because late in the game, the ice is just the way it is, spots wear out, got the big boys sweeping, that’s just the way it is. To dial in and make eight great shots late in the game is not easy for anyone. That was nice to see us do that.”

McEwen, who has won seven Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles, completed a 3-1 run through the triple knockout stage. Koe (2-2) has one more chance to reach the playoffs falling into the C Event finals.

The Meridian Canadian Open is the lone Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event to use the triple knockout format where teams must win three games before they lose three games in order to qualify. 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) reach the quarterfinals in both men’s and women’s divisions.

Elsewhere in Draw 11, Toronto’s Team John Epping also qualified for the playoffs scoring two points in the eighth end to edge Regina’s Team Matt Dunstone 6-5.

“We haven’t qualified in one of these in a while, we missed the last two, so it’s nice to be in the playoffs and give yourself a chance come Saturday and Sunday, hopefully,” Team Epping lead Brent Laing said. “It’s always great to qualify in these. They’re just harder to qualify than ever because there are so many good teams and it shows every week with different teams qualifying. There are still a lot of the same names but there are a lot more teams that can play now.”

Epping had an open draw for a deuce with the last rock of the game after Dunstone misfired his final shot. It looked a little light but Laing dug a trench to drag the shooter in.

“That was a little more sweeping than we were expecting but you do what you can,” Laing said once he was able to catch his breath post-game. “Fortunately, we got there. All good.”

“We just had to hit the rings and John, knock on wood, never misses those,” he added. “We didn’t expect Matty to miss. I think he just underestimated how straight that spot was John had thrown in the end before. Going the other way, it was different than he thought and Matty didn’t pick up on it. It sounded like they liked it early and we just got lucky.”

There will be a new men’s champion this season after Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat bounced last year’s winners Team Brendan Bottcher of Edmonton 6-2 in the C Event semifinals.

Team Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., ousted Scotland’s Team Ross Paterson 7-3 and Switzerland’s Team Yannick Schwaller edged Winnipeg’s Team Jason Gunnlaugson 7-6 in an extra end to also stay alive in the C-side.

The C Event men’s finals go down during Draw 13 Friday night featuring Koe vs. Schwaller, Dunstone vs. Mouat and Howard vs. Team Peter de Cruz of Switzerland.

The action continues at the Gallagher Centre with Draw 12 at 5 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. CT. Watch on Sportsnet or stream online at 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: points for the Pinty’s Cup, which is the season title awarded following the conclusion of the Princess Auto Players’ Championship in April.