Walker takes back control of destiny at Meridian Canadian Open

Laura Walker shoots a stone during the ninth draw of the Meridian Canadian Open on Jan. 10, 2019, in North Battleford, Sask. (Anil Mungal)

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — Edmonton’s Team Laura Walker bounced back on track at the Meridian Canadian Open.

Walker picked up a pair of victories Thursday in the B Event of the triple knockout stage defeating Switzerland’s Team Elena Stern 7-5 in the morning draw and finishing the night off edging Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, Man., 4-3.

“It feels really good,” Walker said. “We played great today, so we were happy to actually pull the wins out of it. We feel like we’ve been playing great and not pulling them out in the end, so it was really nice to win those two.”

After falling to Team Rachel Homan in their A-side opener Wednesday, Team Walker (2-1) reached the B-finals with two chances Friday to qualify for the playoffs starting with a matchup against Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa. The Meridian Canadian Open is the only one of the seven Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments to feature triple knockout — instead of round-robin pools — where teams must win three games before they lose three in order to qualify for the playoffs.

“It’s similar to a normal Slam when you think about it,” Walker said. “You don’t know who you’re going to play ahead of time but you can’t lose three games. Usually, if you get two losses you still get something, so we’re just trying to keep the same mindset that we normally have and win more than we lose. If we can do that then we’ll find ourselves in the playoffs.”

Team Fleury (1-2) dropped to the last-chance C Event and must win out in order to avoid elimination.

It was a binary code scoreboard with nothing but ones and zeros across the ends as neither team allowed a multiple score to strike. The teams alternated singles steadily through the first half and it wasn’t until the sixth end with the score tied when Fleury made a critical mistake on her last that put Walker ahead 3-2. Walker was unable to freeze her last completely and Fleury had an opportunity to tap for two points but flubbed the shot rolling her shooter and her other stone too far to give up a steal.

Fleury was limited to yet another single in seven to knot it up and was close to stealing in eight until Walker came through in the clutch with a difficult wrap-around to grab the winning shot rock.

“I missed my first one to have to throw that one in the first place, so I better make my last one,” Walker said. “It was so back and forth because it was a really well-played game. We didn’t have any big scores because neither team let the other team do that so it was really fun to play a game like that.”

The playoff picture has started to take shape as Homan and Scotland’s Team Eve Muirhead both went 3-0 through the A-side to advance. Three B Event teams (3-1 records) and three C Event teams (3-2 records) will join Homan and Muirhead in Saturday’s quarterfinals. The semis are also set for Saturday with the finals scheduled Sunday.

Elsewhere in the evening draw, Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe clipped Regina’s Team Matt Dunstone 6-2 to reach the men’s B-qualifiers. Koe will collide with Sweden’s Team Niklas Edin, who topped Toronto’s Team John Epping 8-4.

Dunstone started with the hammer but Koe struck first to steal the opening end. Like the Walker-Fleury game, it was singles up and down the board as neither team allowed crucial errors. Koe led by one heading into the final frame without the hammer but forced Dunstone into attempting a tricky runback that missed the mark and gave up three.

“It was a good win,” Team Koe second Colton Flasch said. “We played really well and Matt was making everything. It seemed like we could never catch a break. We finally played really good and got the win.”

It’s a home-province event for Flasch and lead Ben Hebert, who are both originally from Saskatchewan and had some crowd support on hand.

“I’ve got lots of family here and lots of friends, so it’s really nice,” Flasch said.

Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., also made it into the B Event finals following a 7-6 win over Winnipeg’s Team Braden Calvert. Jacobs plays Team Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., in the B Event finals.

Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., and defending champions Team Peter de Cruz of Switzerland meet in the third men’s B-qualifier.

Winnipeg’s Team Jason Gunnlaugson is staying alive in the C-side with a 9-3 victory over Saskatoon’s Team Kirk Muyres. Gunnlaugson (1-2) grabbed his first win while Muyres, who captured the Tour Challange Tier 2 title to earn a spot in the event, is the first one out of the tournament heading home winless at 0-3.

Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher and Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat advanced out of the men’s A Event and now play the waiting game.

Action continues Friday with Draw 10 at 8 a.m. CT with broadcast coverage resuming for the following draw at 12:30 p.m. ET / 11:30 a.m. CT on Sportsnet, Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).

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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