Eight Ends: Marc Kennedy continues paying early returns for Team Jacobs

Marc Kennedy (centre) prepares to sweep a stone for Team Jacobs as Ryan Harnden (right) looks on during the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard at High Park Club. (Anil Mungal)

Eight Ends is your weekly source for news, notes, insight, and analysis from around the curling world. This week’s edition features takeaways from the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard.

1st End: Third Marc Kennedy continues paying dividends for Team Brad Jacobs.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion Kennedy won the Canada Cup in December with the Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., club as a super spare and finished runner-up in their season-opener last month at the Shorty Jenkins Classic while newly-minted as their full-time third. Team Jacobs added to the hardware haul capturing the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard with a 6-1 win over Team Kevin Koe in Monday’s final at High Park Club.

Jacobs was quick to credit Kennedy’s pair of shots in the fifth end that got them out of a jam and set up a blank in order to remain in control. The sixth end proved to be a game-changer with Jacobs scoring a critical count of three points.

“We got some misses from Koe and we capitalized on every opportunity that we had,” Jacobs said. “Actually, the end before that, to keep the hammer in six, Marc made first the run double and then another run double to get the blank (in five), it was really impressive.”

Kennedy is one cool customer and you could see his demeanour on the ice transfer to his teammates as they never got rattled with elimination on the line. The title victory didn’t come easy with Team Jacobs falling into the C event of the triple knockout preliminary round and needing to win five consecutive games.

“We’ve been talking about that all week and we’ve talked about (how) we’re going to face adversity a lot over the next couple years, so let’s just get used to it, adapt and try and fight through it,” Kennedy said. “We’re not going to win anything easy anymore in this game, so this was a really good learning lesson for our team and we really supported each other and stuck through a few tough times and came out on top.”

2nd End: Meanwhile, former Team Jacobs third Ryan Fry, who moved on to join good pal John Epping, also continues to see early returns for his new squad collecting some extra cash by qualifying for the playoffs.

While the quarterfinals run meant an end to Epping’s title streak — following Stu Sells Oakville Tankard and Shorty Jenkins Classic victories — that’s still an impressive three-tournament run to start the season.

Again, it’s early and eyes will continue to be on the team. Consistency has been an issue for Epping in the past and it’ll be intriguing to see how his team reacts once they inevitably end up in a situation like the one Jacobs faced this past weekend.

3rd End: If there’s a silver lining to Team Koe’s week, their runner-up result ensured the club remained on top of the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit rankings.

Koe now holds a roughly 23-point lead over second-overall Epping. Jacobs jumped two spots from sixth to fourth and is about six points behind third-place Team Brendan Bottcher, who was idle this week.

Team Koe may have to play an event without third B.J. Neufeld, who could miss some time in the next few weeks as his wife is due to give birth to the couple’s second child soon.

4th End: Brad Gushue was obviously disappointed following his team’s loss to Jacobs in the semifinals.

The St. John’s, N.L., crew scored three points in the sixth end to erase a deficit and forced Jacobs to a single in the seventh to snatch the hammer for the final frame and only down by a point. Gushue’s first skip stone drew just an inch or two deep beyond the sweet spot on the tee line though and allowed Jacobs to follow the path and lock on top. That forced Gushue into attempting a difficult angle runback on a guard to either tie and force an extra or outright win the match. The raised rock ventured down the wrong path resulting in a 7-5 Jacobs win.

“I think if I make my first one we probably win the game and I just put it in the worst possible spot and left Brad an out, which he made,” Gushue said. “There were some positives this week but there were also some negatives. I guess we’ll take the positives and move on and try to correct some of the negatives.”

Gushue is aiming to regroup and have those negatives sorted out before the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling Masters only a fortnight away in North Bay, Ont. … if there’s anything that actually needs sorting out.

“We just don’t seem to be clicking the way we have and aren’t making the timely shots,” he said. “That could just be complete randomness or could be something we’re doing and that’s what we’ve got to figure out between now and I guess North Bay.”

“It may not be anything,” he added. “It may be, just like I said, randomness and missing the wrong shots at the wrong time. Sometimes you go through little streaks of that and we went through four years of not missing many of them. Over the last year, year-and-a-half we’ve had a few of them. We’ll discuss this after today and figure out which one of them it is.”

5th End: It’s been night and day for Korey Dropkin’s Young Bucks team from last month’s Stu Sells Oakville Tankard to the Toronto tournament. Dropkin and his American squad missed the playoffs in O-Town but qualified A-side in the 6ix and only sustained one loss during the week falling 9-5 to Koe in the semis.

“I think it’s just a really good stepping stone for our progress,” Dropkin said. “We’re feeling really confident about how we’re playing and with how we’re working as a team and I think we showed that this weekend. We had a lot of really good games, really good ends and shots made. Just continue to improve our game going forward and (we’re) kind of just tweaking little things here and there.”

The 24-year-old Dropkin retook the reins at skip this season and simply needed some time to work through the growing pains of reestablishing his leadership role.

“In Oakville, we were having a little bit of a rough (go) at the beginning,” Dropkin said. “I was struggling to get used to my role as skip and shooting last rock. I think everyone just got those beginning of the season jitters a little bit.

“We’ve been coming on strong and getting a lot more practice rocks in and I think we just started really working on our dynamic out on the ice and bringing good energy. I think it’s been working really well and I think it showed this weekend.”

6th End: No, CurlingZone didn’t screw up and repeat last year’s results for the women’s division. Team Kira Brunton of Sudbury successfully defended the title defeating Team Cathy Auld of Kingston 6-4 in a rematch of last year’s all-Ontario final. Brunton scored two in the seventh and fended off Auld with a single steal in the final frame.

Interesting to note: Team Brunton features Ottawa’s Lindsay Dubue at third. You may recall Dubue got the call to fill in at second on Rachel Homan’s team last month at the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., and helped the No. 1 ranked squad reach the semifinals.

7th End: Clutch plays a factor in our selection for the shot of the week. Jacobs pulled off this sick double takeout with the last rock of the sixth end in the final to score three key points.

8th End: Elsewhere on tour this week, Winnipeg’s Team Mike McEwen and Team Nina Roth of the United States were victorious overseas at the Uiseong International Curling Cup in South Korea. McEwen went 6-0 on the men’s side including a 7-4 win over American Team John Shuster in the final. Roth (5-1) sustained her lone loss to hometown heroes Team EunJung Kim during round-robin play but won the rematch in the final 5-4 in an extra end.

Team Peter de Cruz captured the Swiss Cup Basel men’s event in their home country following a 6-2 win over Scotland’s Team Ross Paterson.

Sweden’s Team Isabella Wrana took the Paf Masters Tour women’s event in Aland, Finland with a 5-1 victory over Switzerland’s Team Irene Schori in the final.

Back in Canada, Team Tyler Tardi of Langley, B.C., and Edmonton’s Team Kelsey Rocque claimed the Prestige Hotels and Resorts Curling Classic titles in Vernon, B.C. Tardi capped a 6-0 undefeated run with an 8-5 win over hometown heroes Team Jim Cotter while Rocque also posted a perfect 6-0 record finishing things off with a 4-3 victory over Scotties Tournament of Hearts champs Team Chelsea Carey of Calgary.

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