Kevin Koe shoots a stone during the 12th draw of the Meridian Canadian Open on Jan. 19, 2018, in Camrose, Alta. (Anil Mungal)

Koe knocks out Gushue in Canadian Open C-semis

January 19, 2018, 5:58 PM

CAMROSE, Alta. — Kevin Koe is still living dangerously in the Meridian Canadian Open.

Koe, who will represent Canada at the upcoming Olympics, got out to a slow start at 0-2 to quickly fall into the last-chance C event of the triple knockout.

The Calgary-based crew has turned the tables around drawing its record level following a 7-6 victory Friday afternoon over nine-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling champion Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L.

Perhaps it’s just the magic of Encana Arena where Koe has captured two provincial championships.

“This building has been good to me especially,” Koe said. “I don’t know what it is. It just feels great. Camrose is a great city to come curl at.”

Team Koe will now face John Epping’s Toronto team in the C-qualifiers during the evening draw with the winner moving onto the playoffs and the loser heading home.

Title sponsor Meridian also supports Team Koe and they want to put on a good show for their home-province fans before they head to Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the Winter Games.

“It’s always nice to play in Alberta especially in Meridian’s hometown. They’ve been a great sponsor of ours,” Koe said. “We’re lucky to have a lot of Alberta-based sponsors. The big thing for us is to get some competitive games. This is our last chance to play. We got off to a rough start, regardless we’ve won a couple tight games, extra end [against John Morris], beating Brad coming home so it feels good to do that but it would sure be nice to make it to the weekend.”

It wasn’t your typical C-semifinal matchup as Koe and Gushue have battled in the past two Brier finals with each taking a title. The teams alternated deuces in the first couple ends, Koe was forced to a single in three and Gushue drew for another pair of points in four to lead 4-3 at the break.

Koe regained control to start the second half drawing to the button for another two count to pull back ahead and extended his lead to 6-4 by stealing one in the sixth as Gushue couldn’t quite navigate his last rock through the port and nudged a guard while looking to hit and score.

Team Gushue third Mark Nichols pulled off an amazing run quadruple takeout to set the table for a big end. Koe attempted to limit the damage by locking on top of two counters to tie it 6-6 and that was all Gushue could get as he misfired the raise attempt.

Koe stuffed his first skip stone in eight but pulled it off when it mattered most on his last. Gushue’s final rock, with only 12 seconds left on the clock, curled right near his other stone and allowed Koe to deliver the knockout double eliminating the defending champion.

“You don’t expect to meet those guys down in the C event for sure, especially at a Slam,” Koe said. “That’s where they excel. It was a back-and-forth game all game. A lot of really good shots and pretty well played. We were just fortunate to have hammer coming home.”

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Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher, with Steve Laycock subbing at skip, qualified for the playoffs through the B event with an 8-1 rout over Toronto’s John Epping.

“It’s always great to qualify at a Slam,” Laycock said. “They’re such tough events with good teams so to get through to the playoff round means we’re doing something right this week.”

The Saskatoon native said it’s been really easy joining up with third Darren Moulding, second Brad Thiessen and lead Karrick Martin for the tournament.

“They’re a great group, nice guys and they’ve been very welcoming,” Laycock said. “They do a lot of stuff right and we’re clicking pretty good so hopefully we can continue that on the weekend.”

Laycock, who shot 97 percent in the game, opened with a single and stole points in three consecutive ends to lead 4-0 at the break. Epping, who won the Meridian Canadian Open title in 2015, scored his lone point in five and shook hands after Laycock tacked on four more in six.

“He left us a couple testers early,” Laycock explained. “I had to make a really good hit for one in the first and in the second end my last one heading into that shot could have been anywhere from a four-ender to a steal of two so we got it into a good spot.

“He started trying some pretty tough shots which were low percentage which could have got him into the game but that’s part of why it got it out of hand and he was trying to get back in it.”

Peter de Cruz of Switzerland also advanced through the B event with an 8-3 win over Reid Carruthers of Winnipeg. Carruthers clashes with American John Shuster, who chased Chang-Min Kim of South Korea 6-3, in the C-finals.

Sweden’s Niklas Edin scored three in the eighth to avoid elimination with a 6-5 victory over Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud. Edin will meet BOOST National champion Bruce Mouat of Scotland in the C-finals.

Sixteen of the top men’s teams and 16 of the top women’s team from around the world are competing in the fourth tournament — and third major — of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season.

The Meridian Canadian Open features a triple knockout preliminary format where teams must win three games before they lose three in order to qualify for the weekend playoffs. Count Laycock as a fan of the format.

“If it was up to me every event would be triple knockout because you always have a chance to win the event if you’re playing,” he said. “You don’t have to look at other sheets and hope for other people. You don’t worry about shootouts and figuring out who has the best shootout heading into the last game. If you’re on the ice, you have a chance to win. If you get off to a slow start you’re playing other teams that got off to a slow start. I think it’s perfect in every way.”

Action continues at Encana Arena with Draw 13 at 4 p.m. MT on Sportsnet. Also watch online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) or (international).

NOTES: Winners of the Meridian Canadian Open earn berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup running April 24-29 at Calgary’s WinSport Arena. … Points are also up for grabs for the Bonus Cup, awarded to the overall season champions.