Koe bounces back to beat Balderston at GSOC Champions Cup

Kevin Koe shoots a stone during the fifth draw of the Humpty's Champions Cup on April 25, 2018, in Calgary. (Anil Mungal)

CALGARY — You can never count out Kevin Koe.

The hometown hero and recent Players’ Championship winner surged in the second half to lift his club to a 6-5 victory Wednesday night over Kurt Balderston’s group from Grande Prairie, Alta., at the Humpty’s Champions Cup.

Team Koe levelled its record to 1-1 while Balderston fell to 0-2 in round-robin play.

The season finale Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament at WinSport Arena is the last tournament for this Team Koe squad with third Marc Kennedy taking a break and second Brent Laing returning to his home province of Ontario to play for Team Epping. Lead Ben Hebert is staying on with Team McEwen’s B.J. Neufeld joining at third and current skip Colton Flasch taking over at second.

“It’s nice to be here,” Koe said. “We’ve got a lot of family and friends and we’re an Alberta-based team, Calgary-based team, so we’ve got a lot of sponsors and everybody here. It’s a good way to close out our team’s run for sure.”

After the teams traded pairs of points to start, Balderston got a single in the fourth and stole one in the fifth to double up 4-2. That’s where Koe took control counting another deuce in six and forced Balderston to one in the seventh to grab the hammer coming home.

Although Koe flashed on his first skip stone sending it through the house untouched, Balderston left the double takeout for two open and the Canadian Olympic rep made no mistake blasting them out for the win.

“We had a bit of a struggle,” Koe said. “We’ve been playing pretty good, some skips have made some really good shots against us and a couple bad breaks but we’re not complaining. We used the breaks at the Players’, our last event, but a good win and we’re hanging in there.”

Koe, who went undefeated 8-0 at the Players’ Championship in Toronto, dropped his opening game of the Humpty’s Champions Cup Tuesday night to Winnipeg’s Jason Gunnlaugson.

Elsewhere in the fifth draw, Scotland’s Bruce Mouat moved up to a 2-0 record with a 7-1 rout over Flasch (1-1) from Saskatoon.

“We obviously didn’t play our best at the Players’ but to come here and win our first two games is really encouraging for us,” Mouat said. “We’re probably tired coming off the back of the worlds but we had a good week off, ready to go this week and starting off pretty well.”

The world bronze medallist Mouat outlasted Team Bottcher, skipped by Mick Lizmore, earlier in a wild 9-8 victory. Mouat broke a tie with a four-ender in the fifth only for Lizmore to respond with a score of four of his own to knot it back up. A steal in seven gave Lizmore the lead, but Mouat put the pressure on in eight to get his deuce.

The win over Flasch was definitely less hectic for Mouat.

“This game was a bit more clinical,” he said with a smile. “The four that we lost back after getting our four wasn’t pretty. We struggled just to get a handle on the ice and we missed some pretty simple shots to give up another four. It was a bit frustrating but good to get a win.”

In women’s play, it was a two-win Wednesday for Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson, who followed up a 7-2 victory over future teammate Val Sweeting of Edmonton during the morning draw by downing world junior champion Kaitlyn Jones of Halifax 9-3.

“It’s huge,” Einarson said. “In Toronto, we started off with two losses and that’s tough. We battled back and found our ground. Coming in this week, we’ve been playing really well and making some big shots when needed. It’s good to always get off to two wins.”

Jones (0-2) opened with the hammer but Einarson struck the scoreboard first hard stealing pairs of points in the second, third and fourth ends to build a 6-0 lead. The plot thickened though with Jones grabbing a single in five and swiping two in the sixth to cut the deficit in half.

Einarson’s second chance with the hammer went smoother as she counted three in the seventh for the insurmountable advantage.

“I just needed a touch less ice and then I got it,” Einarson said. “It was a lot of steals out there but we came out with the W, which was nice.”

Team Einarson is parting ways after the event with third Selena Kaatz, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish staying together and adding skip Tracy Fleury for next season. Einarson’s new club includes Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur.

Switzerland’s Alina Paetz powered past Calgary’s own Chelsea Carey 8-2 and Olympic gold medallist Anna Hasselborg of Sweden topped Switzerland’s Binia Feltscher 6-4. All four teams now hold identical 1-1 records.

The Humpty’s Champions Cup features 15 men’s teams and 15 women’s teams that won events over the course of the season in order to qualify for entry. Teams play four round-robin games during the week with the top eight overall advancing to the weekend playoffs.

Round-robin action resumes Thursday at 8:30 a.m. MT with television coverage beginning at Noon MT on Sportsnet plus online streaming available at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare TV (international).

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