CALGARY — For a club that used to jokingly refer to themselves as the Phil Mickelson of their sport, Team Jacobs is starting to get the hang of winning titles in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series.
Brad Jacobs capped the season claiming the Humpty’s Champions Cup with a 6-2 victory over Kevin Koe in Sunday’s final at WinSport Arena.
It’s the third career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title for the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., crew and second this year after winning the Boost National in their hometown in December.
“Even though we hadn’t won Slams for a number of years, we knew that it was only a matter of time as long as we stuck together, kept working hard and kept competing in all of these events,” Jacobs said. “To now have three feels great. We could have more. We’ve been in our fair share of finals and lost so any time you can win one is great. It feels amazing to win this game, to win this title and to go into summer kind of on a high.”
The team of Jacobs, third Ryan Fry, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden cashed in a cool $40,000 and earned a berth back to the Champions Cup next season. It was also their fourth Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling final this season alone as they also finished runner-up at the WFG Masters in October and the Princess Auto Elite 10 last month.
"We’ve been doing a really job of giving ourselves more opportunities to win here in the Slam," E.J. Harnden said. "We lost a couple this year, so it was great to end with a Slam title and allow us to go into the summer on a winning note. We had a lot of fun here too, so we’re extremely happy and it’s nice that we went 50/50 this year."
Jacobs was left on the outside looking in for the Humpty's Champions Cup last season as teams have to win high-profile tournaments to qualify and the 2014 Olympic gold medallist failed to win a single event in 2015-16.
"You never want to not qualify for a Slam and unfortunately last year we weren’t able to win an event to get into the Champions Cup," Harnden said. "So for us to be able to come here for the first time, the best field in the world and win is awesome. We wanted to win not only because we wanted to win the last event of the year but it also gives us some more confidence in Slam finals, to get the job done, and I think we did that here today."
Claiming the College Clean Restoration Curling Classic in September put Jacobs in the running for one of the World Curling Tour invitations and capturing the Boost National punched his Humpty's Champions Cup ticket for good.
"We struggled a bit last year, but we’ve had a great year," Jacobs said. "This is a great way to cap off a pretty great year, I think. You always want to win more, but all in all I do think this was a pretty great year for our team. We’re a confident group of guys and I think this bodes well going into next season."
Harnden said knowing they don't have to worry about not qualifying for the Champions Cup next year is great.
"Any time you know you’re automatically going to be in a Grand Slam event so far in advance is a nice reassuring feeling," he said. "We’re extremely excited to be able to come back wherever it is. We just love playing in the Grand Slam. We know how much it’s done for the sport of curling and we appreciate it and any time we get to play in one we definitely want to be there."
While the berth back next year to the Champions Cup is nice, for now Jacobs is focused on recharging with a busy season ahead in 2017-18 as he looks to repeat as Olympic champion.
"We’ll take the victory and the spot in the Champions Cup, but really just looking forward now to having some time off the ice, stick to our physical training and relax a little bit," Jacobs said. "But we’re also a very hungry group of guys, so looking forward to just giving the body and the mind a little bit of rest and relaxation and come out next year super hungry and ready to play."
After a blank to start, Koe struggled to connect with his doubles in the second and Jacobs capitalized drawing for a deuce.
Koe came back in the third by somehow avoiding the guards by a hair to draw and sit two. Jacobs made a runback, but only eliminated one and Koe eased in his last for his deuce to tie it 2-2.
Jacobs tapped for two in the fourth end to retake the lead and stole one in five to make it 5-2 when Koe went for one of his patented missile runbacks down the side but missed the angles. A perfect freeze by Jacobs on his first skip stone set the table for the swipe as Koe was unable to unlock it.
"I think the key to this game was obviously the fifth end when we got the steal to go up three," Jacobs said. "We made a nice shot on my first one there. We just threw it, called it, swept it perfectly and we made it really tough on him.
"That was kind of the turning point of the game and from there on it was as long as we kept making shots back to theirs it was probably a formality. We played really well, we made everything we had to and we got the W, so this is awesome."
Koe doubled and rolled out to blank six and looked to make a game-saving triple in seven, but only took out two and left one untouched. That put him behind by four and out came the handshakes.
"I think both teams struggled a little bit. Both teams were just a little bit off," Harnden said. "The ice was a little bit tricky, but it was good. I think we were able to just capitalize on the opportunities that we had and any time you can do that there’s going to be a good chance that you’re going to win and we were able to do that today."
Team Jacobs went 3-1 through round-robin play with their only blemish being a close loss to Peter de Cruz after the Swiss side scored two in the final end to win 6-5. Jacobs outlasted Winnipeg's Mike McEwen 9-8 during the quarterfinals and defeated Toronto's John Epping 9-5 in the semifinals to advance to the championship game.
The local favourites Team Koe had been just as sharp as they went 3-1 through the round-robin portion as well with their lone loss coming against Epping in an extra end. Koe beat former teammate John Morris of Vernon, B.C., 7-2, in the quarters and dropped a gem on Sweden's Niklas Edin with the final shot of the semis winning 6-4 to propel into the final.
Koe trailed by one with the hammer coming home and launched a rocket runback double takeout to score three.
The Calgary-based team of Koe, third Marc Kennedy, second Brent Laing are among the most decorated curlers in series history with a combined 40 championships. It was their first Pinty's GSOC final since their victory at the Tour Challenge Tier 1 in September 2015.
Earlier, Ottawa's Rachel Homan captured her sixth career Pinty's GSOC title with a 5-4 win over Sweden's Anna Hasselborg in the women's final.
The Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling series returns Sept. 5-10 for the 2017 Tour Challenge in Regina.