SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. — Say hello to the bad guy: Jason Gunnlaugson doesn’t mind playing the heel role at the Essar Centre.
The Winnipeg native embraced being the villain Tuesday night upsetting hometown hero Brad Jacobs 6-3 during the second draw of the Boost National.
Gunnlaugson — who is supported by third Alex Forrest, second Ian McMillan and lead Connor Njegovan — sustained a heartbreaking early exit in the Road to the Roar pre-trials this past week in Summerside, P.E.I., and the opener against Team Jacobs was just the remedy the team needed.
“We loved it,” Gunnlaugson said with a smile after the game. “I love playing in the hostile buildings. It was a perfect first game for us because we came off a really good but really frustrating pre-trials. It’s a two-trip-in-one thing, so we’ve been really low energy but the crowd just being so pro-Jacobs made us so full of energy. It was a lot of fun.”
“Sometimes you’ve just got to be the villain,” he added. “I like being the face better but the villain is fun too.”
Gunnlaugson, who captured the Tour Challenge Tier 2 title in September, won the pre-game shootout to start with the hammer, but couldn’t get the offence going with bagels on the board for the opening few ends.
It was the defending champion Jacobs who struck the scoreboard first stealing two in the fourth end. Jacobs, the 2014 Olympic gold medallist, narrowly missed three rocks to make a great hit and roll under cover to sit a pair and Gunnlaugson came up short.
It was a really great start. Even that end was pretty good,” Gunnlaugson said. “We looked like we were going to set up for a deuce or a three or something but they made some really great shots, we had some misses and all of a sudden we’re drawing against two and it comes up a little light. The four-foot was hard to hit.”
A draw for two in the fifth made things all square and the tables turned in the sixth as Gunnlaugson stole a couple of his own to swipe a 4-2 lead when Jacobs missed the mark.
“We played a great fifth end and got the deuce back and that settled us back in,” Gunnlaugson said. “In the sixth end it was a wild end. It looked like they might get five but in the end, he had to draw against two and that four-foot was small for both of us so we got a big break there.”
With one rock appearing to bite the edge of the house in the seventh, Jacobs gambled with a hit and stick for a possible deuce. However, a measurement determined the stone was actually outside, Jacobs was forced to just a single and lost the hammer for the final frame.
Gunnlaugson fired a rocket with his last coming home in eight to rip out both of Jacobs’ stones in the house and tack on another two points.
“It was kind of a cheap hold for us [in seven] and coming home we were able to do what we had to do,” Gunnlaugson said. “He made a peach of a shot but we answered with a double.”
“It was a fun shot,” Gunnlaugson added. “It was definitely there. We knew it was the worst case if he makes it perfect and of course he makes it perfect, that’s why he’s a gold medallist. We were lucky enough to make the double.”
Elsewhere, Toronto’s John Epping scored two in the seventh and stole one in eight to complete a 5-3 comeback victory over China’s Rui Liu.
Tour Challenge Tier 1 and Masters champion Brad Gushue kept his Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling winning streak intact following a 7-6 extra-end win over Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen. The St. John’s, N.L., native now holds a 15-0 record in the series this season.
Calgary’s Kevin Koe scored three sets of deuces and stole one in the seventh to defeat Scotland’s Greg Drummond 7-3.
In the lone women’s division tilt, Tracy Fleury of Sudbury, Ont., gave up a steal in the eighth but pulled out the 5-4 victory over Ottawa’s Rachel Homan in an extra end.
“It feels good especially when we knew we had a tough start playing Team Homan,” Fleury said. “It was a good battle out there but we’re happy with how we played.”
Fleury already bested her win total from her previous Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling outing after going 0-4 in the Tour Challenge. Her team dropped down the rankings and missed out on qualifying for the Masters but managed to work their way back into the elite group to receive an invitation to the Boost National.
“It was sad watching the last Slam,” Fleury said. “We wished we could have played but we’re happy to be here.”
Fleury’s sister Jennifer Wylie returned to the lineup at second after giving birth to her son Kolton in September.
Homan topped Fleury in the 2015 National final to capture the event’s inaugural women’s championship.
The Boost National is the third event and second major of the 2017-18 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season and features 15 of the top men’s teams and 15 of the top women’s teams from around the globe.
Round-robin play runs through to Friday with the top eight on each side qualifying for the weekend playoffs.