Howard heats up to reach GSOC Meridian Canadian Open playoffs

Glenn Howard in action at the 2020 Meridian Canadian Open in Yorkton, Sask. (Anil Mungal)

YORKTON, Sask. — It might be -20 C outside but Glenn Howard is playing like he’s on fire in the Meridian Canadian Open at the Gallagher Centre.

Yes folks, the 57-year-old Howard has still got it skipping his Penetanguishene, Ont., squad to its third consecutive victory of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling major tournament and into the playoffs.

Howard, who has won 14 Grand Slams as a skip, qualified Friday night shooting a game-high 94 per cent during an 8-6 win over Team Peter de Cruz from Switzerland.

“You just want to get a win under your belt and we did,” said Howard, who was ecstatic after the game. “We got our first win just to keep ourselves alive. We had a great day, actually the last three games we’ve played really well. That was a little shaky in spots but I thought we really stepped it up for those last two and just what we really needed to do.

“I love it, that was a wild game and it’s so much fun to be out there. A couple of goofy shots here and a couple of unbelievable shots but fun to play and obviously when you win, it makes it that much better.”

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.

Team Howard got off to a slow start at 0-2 to drop into the C Event early and took the long road to turn the corner completely.

The game against De Cruz was crazy, fittingly enough, with Howard stealing two in the first before giving up three in the second. The teams alternated deuces in the third and fourth ends and Howard counted another couple in the fifth to retake the lead and added a steal in the sixth to make it 7-5.

Team De Cruz, with Benoit Schwarz throwing fourth stones, were limited to a single in the seventh and held the shot rock in the eighth, but Howard was able to outdraw the counter and tack another point on the scoreboard.

“It was just back and forth,” Howard said. “The big shot was in six. Benoit had a run double if he makes that he goes up one playing seven, jammed it and we steal. Then we’re two up playing seven and you’re in pretty good shape. Then seven got hairy and fortunately, we only gave them one so it all worked out.”

Team Yannick Schwaller of Switzerland and Team Bruce Mouat of Scotland also advanced out of the C-qualifiers with 3-2 records. Schwaller stunned reigning Pinty’s Cup champions Team Kevin Koe of Calgary 7-4 while Mouat shaded home-province heroes Team Matt Dunstone of Regina 4-3.

It’s the first time Schwaller has qualified for the playoffs in a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event.

“It’s awesome,” said Schwaller, who missed the playoffs six times over the past two seasons. “It’s our first time qualifying and we took a few shots. The Grand Slams wasn’t our turf so far but we’re happy to make it through and kind of give it everything tomorrow.”

The game was all tied up 4-4 in the seventh end when Koe misfired his last shot to hand Schwaller an open hit for the decisive three points. Schwaller sealed the game on his first skip stone of the eighth with a runback double to run Koe out of rocks.

“I guess we got a bit lucky there,” Schwaller said. “It was obviously a big three but we never saw a three coming there. Of course, we’ll take it. It felt like we had the game under control but we had a feeling that it was going closer to the eighth.”

Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., went undefeated through the triple knockout to qualify at 3-0 while Toronto’s Team John Epping, Winnipeg’s Team Mike McEwen and Team Korey Dropkin of the United States moved on through the B-qualifiers at 3-1.

The men’s quarterfinals see Jacobs vs. Howard, Gushue vs. Schwaller, Epping vs. Mouat and McEwen vs. Dropkin. (Watch Saturday on Sportsnet and CBC at Noon ET / 11 a.m. CT.)

First up is the women’s C finals (7:30 a.m. CT) featuring Scotland’s Team Eve Muirhead vs. Team Min Ji Kim of South Korea, Calgary’s Team Chelsea Carey vs. Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa and Team Silvana Tirinzoni vs. Team Elena Stern in an all-Swiss battle.

Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., and Team Nina Roth of the United States were the A-qualifiers at 3-0 while Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones, Team Anna Hasselborg of Sweden and Team Alina Kovaleva of Russia made it through the B-side with 3-1 records.

The women’s quarterfinals go down at 4 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. CT followed by the men’s and women’s semifinals at 8 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. CT. (Watch both draws on Sportsnet 360.)

Online streaming is available for the quarterfinals and semifinals 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.

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