Rylan Kleiter (centre) watches his stone during the first draw of the Meridian Canadian Open on Jan. 8, 2019, in North Battleford, Sask. (Anil Mungal)

Kleiter makes colourful debut at Canadian Open

January 9, 2019, 12:39 AM

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — Youth will be served at the Meridian Canadian Open with Rylan Kleiter aiming to make a splash during his team’s Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling debut.

Quite literally, in fact, as Kleiter’s club from Saskatoon stands out from the crowd with the funky paint-splattered patterned pants that they’ve been sporting on tour.

So, what’s the story behind the slacks?

“It started actually when we brought on our third Trevor [Johnson],” Kleiter said with a smile. “It was just what the team all wanted and agreed on to get the pants.”

Kleiter, Johnson, second Joshua Mattern and lead Matthieu Tallon received the sponsor’s exemption spot to compete in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling major tournament featuring the top teams from around the world. The foursome was buzzing during its group chat when the invitation arrived and the fact Team Kleiter had to face off against world No. 1 ranked Team Kevin Koe in Tuesday night’s opening draw didn’t intimidate them nor stop them from throwing shade at their competition on Instagram.

“It’s awesome. It’s going to be a great learning experience getting to play against the best and learn from them,” Kleiter said. “We’re looking forward to it.”

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If their pants don’t grab your attention, their play on the ice certainly will. Team Kleiter is coming in hot having run the table to capture their third consecutive junior men’s provincial championship on New Year’s Eve. The Meridian Canadian Open will serve as a warm-up as they prepare to represent Saskatchewan later this month on home-province ice in Prince Albert.

“It’ll help us a lot, getting on this kind of ice as well and be able to learn from that,” the 20-year-old Kleiter said.

Kleiter also balances a hectic schedule between curling, studying business at the University of Saskatchewan and catching passes for the Saskatoon Hilltops of the Canadian Junior Football League.

“It’s busy but I make everything work,” Kleiter said.

Draw 1 recap

Team Koe didn’t go easy on Team Kleiter and gave them some lumps with a 10-1 rout in just five ends to kick off the Meridian Canadian Open.

“They just won their junior provincials, so they’re probably feeling pretty confident and good about where their games are at,” Team Koe third B.J. Neufeld said. “We were expecting them to come out and play well and they did. They played a really good first end.

“You don’t really know what to expect. You just prepare for the team to play well and hopefully, you can match up with them.”

Kleiter started with the hammer and threatened to score big in the first, but Koe brought the heat making a scorching in-off from the side of the house to bump a pair and sit shot stone.

“He throws the high hard ones probably as good if not better than everyone else and he’s not scared to throw those type of shots, especially in the first end,” Neufeld said. “It’s his bread and butter, he’s really confident with those and it shows. He’s making a lot of those this year.”

Koe’s counter held up for a steal and set the tone as Kleiter still had a shot to possibly count three but crashed on a guard.

“It’s the start we wanted,” Neufeld said. “I mean, we may have been a little bit rusty at the beginning of the game, which is kind of probably to be expected. We had a long break and I don’t think a lot of us really got to throw a lot of rocks over the holidays, just recharge batteries a bit, so we were probably a little bit rusty.

“We dodged a bit of a bullet in the first end. He had a shot for three, a tough shot, but guys make those every once in a while now. So we dodged a bit of a bullet there, ended up stealing one and then we were pretty good the rest of the game after that.”

The two-time world champion Koe doubled his advantage in the second stanza with Kleiter hitting but rolling the wrong way to concede another point. After Kleiter got on the board in the third, Koe pulled away with a huge fourth end scoring six points. Koe continued to apply pressure and swiped another couple points in five as Kleiter clipped a guard with his last.

While the Winnipeg native Neufeld is the designated import on Team Koe, it’s still a pseudo-home-province event for the Calgary crew with second Colton Flasch and lead Ben Hebert originally from Saskatchewan and cheers erupted from the stands for both squads.

“It’s great. It’s always nice to have people in the crowd cheering for you,” Neufeld said. “It gives you maybe a bit of a boost, so it’s a lot of fun to play in front of fans who are cheering for you, for sure.”

Elsewhere, Toronto’s Team John Epping tackled Saskatoon’s Team Kirk Muyres 8-1 in only five ends, too. Epping opened with a deuce and added a steal of three in the second followed by another point in the third. Muyres, who claimed the Tour Challenge Tier 2 title in November to earn an invitation, was limited to his lone single in four. The 2015 Meridian Canadian Open champion Epping, who threw a near-perfect 96 per cent in the match, tacked two more on the scoreboard in five to ice the game early.

Niklas Edin just beat the buzzer with a highlight-reel runback triple takeout to score three points in the eighth to lift his Swedish squad to a 7-6 win over Winnipeg’s Team Jason Gunnlaugson.

Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat topped Team Scott McDonald of Kingston, Ont., 8-5 and Team Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., outlasted Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., 5-4 in an extra end.

Action resumes Wednesday morning at North Battleford’s Civic Centre at 8 a.m. CT.

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. The semis are also set for Saturday with the finals scheduled Sunday.

Broadcast coverage begins Thursday on Sportsnet.

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.