Steve Laycock shoots a stone during the Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, Sask. (Anil Mungal)

Laycock, McEwen & Bottcher qualify at Canadian Open

January 6, 2017, 11:19 PM

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — Steve Laycock was living dangerously in the C-side at the Meridian Canadian Open, but it paid off for the Saskatoon native.

Laycock got out to slow start in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament dropping his first pair of games in the triple knockout preliminary and bounced back rolling to three consecutive wins capped with a 7-3 victory Friday night over Edmonton’s Charley Thomas.

“It feels good to qualify,” Team Laycock third Kirk Muyres said. “We struggled the first couple games and it just wasn’t flowing right.

“Lately we just kept getting stronger and stronger now and this was absolutely our best game we’ve got so far. It’s nice to start flowing that along especially as our next event is provincials so we know we have to get ready for that. We needed these points. It’s great to start playing good and getting that confidence back.”

Thomas opened with the hammer and attempted a double takeout to blank but didn’t have enough to spin out his shooter and stuck around for a single. Laycock hit three counters for a deuce in the second and Thomas drew for one in the third to tie it 2-2.

After a blank in four, Thomas fell into trouble in the fifth and made a double to limit the damage as Laycock kicked out the counter to score three. Thomas had to make a hit for just a single in six and shook hands after Laycock scored another deuce and the jam-packed Civic Centre crowd went into a frenzy.

Muyres is looking forward to playing in front of a sold-out arena Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals against Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L. (Watch Saturday on CBC at 1 p.m. ET).

“This is the most fun you could ever have curling,” Muyres said. “This is why you do it, for moments like that with a packed crowd that’s cheering for you out there. We’re pretty lucky to be in Saskatchewan where everyone seems to like curling.”

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Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen knocked out Saskatoon’s Bruce Korte 7-1 to advance. McEwen took two in the first, stole one in the second and swiped four in the fourth to lead by seven at the break. Korte, the sponsor’s exemption at the event, could only manage a single in the fifth to break the shutout and shook hands.

“That’s a good birthday present for sure,” said Team McEwen second Matt Wozniak, who turned 34 years old. “We’re going to go have a beer or two and get a decent sleep before the quarterfinal tomorrow.”

Team McEwen, two-time Canadian Open champions, were sharp throwing 93 percent as a unit with their skip tossing a stellar 98 percent.

“It was a really good game obviously by the scoreboard,” Wozniak said. “Pretty good precision from all four of us. We were pretty determined to get that win and qualify. We’ve been playing really good the whole week it’s just a tough field. We ran into some pretty stiff competition. We knew we were playing well we just needed to keep it going and we did.”

It was a slight detour through the C brackets for McEwen, who fell to Gushue in the B-finals earlier Friday. McEwen meets Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who had the day off after going 3-0 through the A-side. Jacobs has picked up in the new year where he left off after winning the Boost National in his hometown last month.

Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher clipped Kevin Koe of Calgary 5-4 to advance. Koe, the reigning world champ, started out strong at 2-0 but dropped three consecutive qualifier games. Bottcher plays the other A-qualifier, Niklas Edin of Sweden, who has won two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles this season.

John Morris of Vernon, B.C., and American John Shuster advanced through the B brackets earlier Friday and square off in the fourth quarterfinal match.

NOTES: The Meridian Canadian Open is the fourth event and third major of the 2016-17 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season. … Teams must win three games before they lose three in order to qualify for the playoffs. … Winners of the Meridian Canadian Open earn spots for the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup taking place at the end of April in Calgary.