Glenn Howard delivers a stone during the sixth draw of the Princess Auto Elite 10 in Winnipeg on March 16, 2018. (Anil Mungal)

Howard edges Epping to earn Elite 10 playoff spot

March 16, 2018, 7:52 PM

WINNIPEG — Glenn Howard bounced back to beat John Epping 1-up and clinch a spot in the Princess Auto Elite 10 playoffs.

The 16-time Grand Slam champion from Tiny, Ont., finished round-robin play at seven points with two regulation wins, one shootout loss and one regulation loss.

It was a far cry from Howard and Epping’s previous meeting in the Ontario Tankard final — where six blank ends were on the board to start — thanks to the match play format. Howard jumped out to a 2-up lead stealing the opening pair of ends. The Toronto native Epping got on course and took control scoring in the third and fifth ends to make it all square.

“We had a great start and got up a couple,” Howard said. “Up two in this format is tough to come back from but Johnny, the wily veteran that he is already at a tender age, played a great third and a great fifth against us, now we’re tied.”

Epping forced a push in six to reclaim the hammer for seven but gave up a steal to fall behind and needed to win the final end to force a shootout. Although Epping sat shot rock in eight, he had to draw his last one into a pile but it didn’t quite curl enough.

“We played a great seventh end and got a few misses out of them,” Howard said. “To get that point there makes it dormie so you’re into the points of some sort. I thought John was going to make his last one. I was already talking about the draw to the button and it just hung on him. It didn’t curl enough and we got the force so we got the win. It was a big win for us.”

Team Epping ended round-robin play with two wins and two losses, all in regulation, and will have to wait to find out their fate.

Adam Spencer is filling in for Richard Hart at third on Team Howard and the skip said he’s been incredible as the super spare.

“He’s been trying to retire for two or three years,” Howard said. “Team Gushue used him when Brad went down with his hip, they brought him in and he made a ton of shots for them. He’s come in and played with me, we’ve had him for two or three years now and he’s awesome. The guy just comes off of the couch, jumps into the gym, gets himself back into shape and away he goes. He’s a pleasure to play with and a great shot maker.”

Princess Auto Elite 10: Scores | Draw Schedule | Standings | TV Schedule

Elsewhere, Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen is clear through to the semifinals following a 4 & 2 victory over Olympic gold medallist John Shuster. McEwen topped the leaderboard with four regulation wins (12 points) to receive a bye.

“I didn’t even realize that until this morning that the top team got through to the semis,” Team McEwen second Matt Wozniak said. “It’s nice for sure in this field. To have one less team to battle through in the playoffs is always good.”

“We had sort of the weird draw where we played three in a row early and then we’re done sort of relatively early here, so it’s fine,” he added. “We’ll just sit back, have a nice night and see what we get tomorrow.”

McEwen stole the first couple ends ala Howard to grab a 2-up lead. Shuster, from Duluth, Minn., scored in the third but it was all McEwen from there as he continued to roll grabbing the checkmark in four and stealing two more in five and six.

“It’s all about making good draw placement,” Wozniak said. “We had a couple ends where we sort of out-positioned them early in the end and then Mike’s making his last one. It really is a skip’s game in the end, I mean, curling in general is but especially this format. If Mike makes his, the other guy has got to counter otherwise it’s going to be a skin for us. He’s making his last one more so than the other guy right now and this is what’s happening.”

Shuster (1-0-0-2; three points) still has to play Canada’s Kevin Koe in a Winter Games rematch.

Sweden’s Niklas Edin covered the pin in the shootout to clip Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers. All four of Edin’s games ended in a different fashion — regulation win, shootout win, shootout loss and regulation loss — to earn six points. Carruthers (0-1-1-1; three points) has one more game remaining against back-to-back Brier champion Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L.

Teams can win an end by either counting two or more rocks (with the hammer) or stealing at least one (without the hammer). If the score is tied after eight ends, a draw-to-the-button shootout will determine the winner.

Teams receive three points for a regulation win, two points for a shootout win and one point for a shootout loss.

Round-robin action continues at St. James Civic Centre at 8 p.m. CT with television coverage on Sportsnet and online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare TV (international).

NOTES: The Princess Auto Elite 10 is the fifth tournament of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season and runs through to Sunday. … The winning team earns an invitation to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup taking place April 24-29 at Calgary’s WinSport Arena.