Denni Neufeld, Matt Wozniak, B.J. Neufeld and Mike McEwen celebrate after winning the Canadian Open. (Photo: Anil Mungal)

Mike McEwen edges Glenn Howard in thrilling Canadian Open final

January 30, 2011, 3:18 PM

OSHAWA, Ont. — The NHL All-Star Game had to wait as Mike McEwen captured the Canadian Open title by delivering his last shot of the extra end through a narrow port to edge Glenn Howard 5-4 in Sunday’s thrilling final.

The Winnipeg team of McEwen, third B.J. Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak and lead Denni Neufeld claimed their second career Grand Slam of Curling title and their second of the season after winning the World Cup in November.

McEwen had the opportunity to put the game away in the eighth but gave up a steal to force overtime and hold up CBC’s pre-game coverage of the NHL’s annual showcase. Howard made a tantalizing double through the wickets to lie three with his last and McEwen had no choice but to follow the same path as he came through in the clutch on a razor-thin, hit-and-stick bullet to score the victory.

“That was awesome,” McEwen told grandslamofcurling.com. “That was a great game. Of course, I had a chance to win it in the eighth and I missed the easy shot, so I guess I had to make the hero shot in the extra.”

McEwen opened with the hammer and raced out of the gate to an early 3-0 lead scoring a deuce in the second followed by a steal of one in the third.

The teams exchanged singles through the fifth and sixth ends as McEwen maintained the three-point advantage up 4-1.

Howard charged back erasing the deficit with a two-count in the seventh and a single steal in eight to make it all square at 4-4. McEwen attempted a tricky takeout rather than the draw with his last and his stone rolled out, allowing another one of Howard’s counters to claim shot rock to set the stage for the dramatic extra end.

“I’m a skip but I’m probably a hitter by nature,” said McEwen, who finished the tournament with an undefeated 8-0 record to cash in a cool $25,000.

Howard, of Coldwater, Ont., also entered the final and unblemished record earning seven consecutive wins including a 7-3 victory over reigning world champion Kevin Koe of Edmonton in the semifinals.

The team of Howard, third Richard Hart, second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill earned $17,500 of the $100,000 prize purse.

“We hung in there and I give my guys credit,” Howard told grandslamofcurling.com. “We did everything we had to do to come back. If you had told me after the fourth end that he had to make that shot to win, I’d be pretty pleased. I made a pretty good one to put him in that situation and he made a great shot.”

McEwen eliminated Dale Matchett of Brandford, Ont., 7-3 during the quarterfinals and ousted city rival Jeff Stoughton 6-4 in the semis.

EVENT NOTES:

- For the first time in the Grand Slam of Curling’s history, a team with a 2-3 round-robin record was guaranteed a playoff spot with an eight-team logjam. Half of them were eliminated immediately based on draw-to-the-button shootout scores while the other four were required to play two sets of six-end tiebreakers for the eighth and final playoff spot. Rob Fowler of Brandon, Man., beat Toronto’s John Epping 3-1 and Mark Bice of Sarnia, Ont., defeated Edmonton’s Don Walchuk 5-3 in Round 1. Fowler topped Bice 4-2 in Round 2 to advance and face Howard in the quarterfinals.

- In an ironic twist, if Thomas Ulsrud of Norway had made his final draw shot Friday night against Peter Corner, of Brampton, Ont., no tiebreakers would have been required at all. Instead of advancing, however, Ulsrud was among the four eliminated based on draw-to-the-button scores.

- Fowler, who started the tournament 0-3, couldn’t keep the Saturday streak running as Howard was victorious 5-2.

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