Howard, Gunnlaugson grab first wins at GSOC Meridian Canadian Open

Team Jacobs and Team Einarson each pick up wins in the triple knockout format, to book their spots in the playoffs, as we recap Thursday's action in the GSOC Meridian Canadian Open.

YORKTON, Sask. — You can never count out Glenn Howard in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.

With elimination on the line, Howard and his Penetanguishene, Ont., club staved off an early exit from the Meridian Canadian Open bouncing Team Niklas Edin of Sweden 4-1 during Thursday night’s action at the Gallagher Centre.

The 57-year-old Howard, who has won 14 GSOC titles as skip, lost his first couple of games in the tournament to Brad Jacobs and Mike McEwen, respectively, to fall into the C Event of the triple knockout stage.

“I felt the first two games we played average,” Howard said. “We played pretty good against Jacobs. We had a couple chances. I missed two bad ones at point to give us the lead and that upset me. We played not that great against McEwen but I think we played pretty solid tonight against Niklas. Got him on a bit of a bad day but a win’s a win.

“It’s just great. I sure as heck didn’t want to go 0-3. Hey, we win and now we’ll just try to keep winning.”

Although Howard held the hammer just once late in the match, he was able to build a 3-0 lead thanks to single steals in the second, third and fifth ends.

The reigning world champion Edin finally got on the scoreboard in the sixth. It was a bit of a missed opportunity, however, as he looked at possibly scoring two and jammed Howard’s stone to settle for just one point.

Howard’s first crack of the hammer resulted in a single in seven as he drew to back of the four-foot circle to re-establish the three-point gap. That handed the hammer back to Edin for the final frame although he never got a chance to throw his last stone with Howard running him out of rocks.

“I said to the boys around the third end, ‘As long as we don’t ever get the hammer we’re going to win this game,’” Howard said with a laugh. “It was kind of a weird one, did not get hammer until the seventh, and the good news is we were leading.

“A couple of shots here and there. Nik had a double for two to tie it and it just misses so we steal and now we’re up 3-0 as opposed to it being 2-2. It’s a game of inches and fortunately, we got a few misses out of them.”

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 advance to the quarterfinals. With each loss, teams drop 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.

Meanwhile, Winnipeg’s Team Jason Gunnlaugson also improved to a 1-2 record ousting home-province favourites Team Kirk Muyres of Saskatoon 5-3 in the other C Event quarterfinal.

“We just know that we have to get to three wins so it was great to come out and play in a hostile environment,” Gunnlaugson said with a smile. “We always love playing people in their hometowns. It’s extra fun. It was nice to get the win and two more to go, so that’s a good thing.”

Winning the pre-game draw-to-the-button shootout for the hammer proved to be crucial. Gunnlaugson converted for a deuce in the first end and never trailed staying one step ahead of Muyres with only singles back and forth on the board from there.

“We all know that draw-to-the-button is extremely important and to get one, finally,” Gunnlaugson said. “I think our record is pretty good when we get hammer in the Slams this year and when we don’t it hasn’t been great, so it was big to get that hammer and we kept it going from there.”

Team Korey Dropkin, who won the Tour Challenge Tier 2 title to earn a promotion into the elite ranks, advanced to the playoffs with a 7-4 victory over Team Peter de Cruz of Switzerland in a B-qualifier.

It was the second chance on the day to advance for Dropkin, who is playing in his first top-tier GSOC event as a skip and lost to Jacobs earlier Thursday in the A-side finals.

Meanwhile, Team McEwen, from Winnipeg, edged Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat 6-5 and Toronto’s Team John Epping topped Scotland’s Team Ross Paterson 6-3 in B Event semifinals.

McEwen meets Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe and Epping plays Regina’s Team Matt Dunstone in the other B-qualifiers while Howard takes on Paterson, Gunnlaugson goes up against Switzerland’s Team Yannick Schwaller and Mouat faces defending champions Team Brendan Bottcher of Edmonton in C Event semifinals Friday afternoon.

The Meridian Canadian Open continues Friday at 8 a.m. CT. Broadcast coverage resumes at 1 p.m. ET / Noon CT on Sportsnet and streaming online via 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.

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