Undefeated Bottcher, Mouat qualify for GSOC Canadian Open playoffs

Brendan Bottcher delivers a rock during the seventh draw of the Meridian Canadian Open on Jan. 10, 2019, in North Battleford, Sask. (Anil Mungal)

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher and Team Bruce Mouat of Scotland became the first to advance to the playoffs at the Meridian Canadian Open.

Bottcher defeated Peter de Cruz’s Swiss side 9-5 and Mouat nipped Team Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., 4-3 in the men’s A-finals during the seventh draw Thursday at the Civic Centre.

The Meridian Canadian Open features a triple knockout bracket preliminary round where teams must win three games before they lose three in order to qualify for Saturday’s quarterfinals.

Despite the undefeated 3-0 run, Bottcher doesn’t believe his team has brought its A game just yet with almost 48 hours to prepare for the playoffs.

“It feels like we’ve done just enough to sort of squeak through our first few,” Bottcher said. “I think we’ll need to throw some practice rocks and hopefully, we’re sharp on Saturday.”

Bottcher jumped out of the gate dropping a four-ender in the opening end but had to fend off De Cruz down to the wire with the five-rock rule enabling his opponent to stay in the game.

“In five-rock curling, you’re not done until the other team shakes, especially when you get a big end early,” Bottcher said. “It’s also a little hard to play seven ends of defence, just mentally it’s hard to be in the game. It’s hard to make everything perfect and they made a couple great shots. They had a guaranteed steal of one in seven and they were really close to having a guaranteed steal of one in eight.”

De Cruz stole a point in seven to close within one at 6-5 and threatened to steal the victory in eight sitting multiple rocks in the house. Bottcher anticipated conceding another to force an extra end, but third Darren Moulding placed the broom in the right spot for them to pull off a perfect triple and add three insurance markers.

“I even left my broom down at the other end,” Bottcher said. “As far as I was concerned, a double there was great. There was a sliver in the middle where the triple was there but if it curls a half centimetre more we might not get either of the two side ones out and then we lose. I was really trying to make sure that we got the two and then Darren knew where we had to hit it to maybe get lucky.”

The defending champion De Cruz (2-1) dropped to the B Event and now meets Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., after they topped Team Scott McDonald of Kingston, Ont., 5-3. McDonald (1-2) fell into the last-chance C Event and must win out to remain in contention.

Howard (2-1) awaits either Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., or Team Braden Calvert, who beat Team Reid Carruthers 7-6 during the afternoon draw.

Another all-Manitoba B Event matchup highlighted the lone women’s game of the draw with Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul edging Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli 8-7 in an extra end.

“It gives us a little bit of a confidence boost, for sure,” Fleury said. “We always have really tight, exciting games against them it seems and yeah, that was another close one.”

The back-and-forth match was tied 4-4 when Fleury jumped ahead counting three in the sixth. A pick on Fleury’s last opened the door for Einarson to score a deuce in seven and Fleury was unable to double out Einarson’s covered counter in eight that forced the extra end.

“The three was really key,” Fleury said. “It gave us some control and then we had an unfortunate pick on my last in the seventh, which gave them the two and then they played a really good eighth end to get the steal.”

A wide-open hit with Fleury’s last in the extra end sealed the deal.

“My teammates played great in the extra to keep it nice and open for me,” Fleury said. “An open hit is always a good shot to throw.”

Fleury (1-1) moves on to play Edmonton’s Team Laura Walker in the B Event semifinals while Einarson (0-2) is in the C side against Tour Challenge Tier 2 winners Team Elena Stern of Switzerland.

Action resumes with Draw 8 at 3 p.m. local time (4 p.m. ET) with broadcast coverage on Sportsnet, Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international). The featured game is Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones versus Team Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta.

NOTES: The Meridian Canadian Open is the fifth event and third major of the 2018-19 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 globe. … Standard Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling rules apply: games are played to eight ends, the five-rock rule is in effect and teams receive 33 minutes of thinking time plus two, 90-second timeouts. … The combined purse is $250,000 with the winning teams earning $30,000 plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup.

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