Glenn Howard delivers a stone during the fourth draw of the Princess Auto Elite 10 Thursday in Chatham-Kent, Ont. (Anil Mungal)

Howard, Epping & Koe climb to top of Elite 10 men’s table

September 27, 2018, 6:53 PM

CHATHAM-KENT, Ont. — Team Glenn Howard started the day at the bottom of the Princess Auto Elite 10 table but a good day at the office now has the Penetanguishene, Ont., crew tied at the top.

Howard picked up a pair of wins Thursday in the season-opening Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event at Thames Campus Arena defeating Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., 1-Up and Winnipeg’s Team Jason Gunnlaugson 3 & 1.

Team Howard bounced back after falling to provincial rivals Team John Epping of Toronto during the first draw Wednesday evening.

“Last night’s game was one of the worst I’ve played in years,” skip Glenn Howard said. “Our whole team, we were off, we didn’t make a shot, we played awful. Coming off of that and now you’re going up against Brad Gushue, arguably the best team in the world, and we’re thinking what do we gotta do? I’m so proud of the boys.

“We came out, made a ton of shots this afternoon against Brad and then again a ton of shots against Gunner tonight. To get two wins is massive. You want to get to that two-win spot and hopefully, we can do well tomorrow against [Bruce] Mouat. The best thing is we turned it around. We actually played really, really solid today and that’s what we had to do.”

Match play rules are in effect where teams compete to win the most ends per game. Points are scored by either counting two or more rocks (with the hammer) or stealing at least one rock (without the hammer). The Princess Auto Elite 10 features three additional unique rules: Stopwatches are banned, tick shots cannot be performed on guards sitting on the centre line until the sixth rock of play, and teams have four minutes of thinking time per end.

The game against Gunnlaugson was tight to start with pushes in the first couple ends.

Gunnlaugson grabbed a point in the third end and Howard nearly ran out of time in the fourth end using up a timeout and draining his clock down to four seconds before delivering his last stone of the end. Howard sat two stones around the four-foot circle with Gunnlaugson also lying one on the line and the team couldn’t figure out who had first and/or second shot rock. After nudging one in to guarantee shot stone, the measuring stick came out and determined Howard had them both beat for the point.

“We couldn’t decide who was shot rock and that was massive so we had to take a timeout to decide on that and then we still weren’t sure,” Howard said. “I thought it was us and then all of a sudden I looked up and we’ve got 20-something seconds and I’m still down at this end, so I’m skating down to the other end and got it off with a few seconds to go or a second to go. Fortunately, I made the tap and we won the measure.

“It ended up being a huge event but this four-minute time clock, you think it’s an eternity and it’s not. I hate it and I love it all at the same time because you make bad calls because you’re rushing around and you make bad shots because you’re rushed around. Other teams do the same thing but man, it makes it exciting.”

An unforced error for Gunnlaugson in the fifth proved to be the deciding factor. Gunnlaugson was looking to make a tap to score when lead Connor Njegovan accidentally touched their stone while sweeping and led to a steal for Howard.

“Luckily, it was questionable whether he was going to hang around, probably hang around and get his deuce and he burned it with about six, seven feet to go,” Howard said. “I hate when that happens but as my old buddy Richard Hart said for years, ‘Don’t touch the rock.’ You can’t burn a rock, so they knew that and it’s part of the game. We’ve won games and lost games the same way. I hate to see it though because it’s one of those parts of the game that doesn’t have to happen.”

Howard swiped another in six as Gunnlaugson (0-0-0-3, zero points) crashed on a guard and tacked one more on the board in seven with Gunnlaugson not able to find the right angle to stay in contention.

Team Howard is tied at the top of the leaderboard with six points alongside Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe and Epping, who hold identical 2-0-0-0 records.

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

It was also a back-to-back two-win Thursday for Koe, who was too much to handle for Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Sweden’s Team Niklas Edin. Koe claimed 3 & 2 victories in both matches.

“Obviously, a great start,” skip Kevin Koe said. “You couldn’t ask for much more. We played two of the top teams in the world and we played well in both games. We’re in a good spot.”

Team Koe, with new third B.J. Neufeld and second Colton Flasch, have carried the momentum from their championship victory earlier this month in China at the inaugural Curling World Cup tournament.

“It’ll take a bit of long process, it’s going well now and hopefully, we can keep it going,” Koe said. “The test will be once we struggle a bit somewhere that we can keep it together. We’re getting along great, they’re great throwers so we’re all having fun so far.”

Epping picked up a 2-up win over Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat to wrap up Draw 4 action.

“Three points are huge,” skip John Epping said. “If you ever get into a tiebreaker or something it could come down to that, so it’s big and it’s big to score a lot of skins too, so that matters. Great start and any time you get two wins really in a Slam you know you’re in good shape but hopefully at least a tiebreaker.”

Team Epping, featuring a reunited front-end duo of Brent Laing and Craig Savill, also entered the Princess Auto Elite 10 on a hot streak after going undefeated to capture the Shorty Jenkins Classic two weeks ago in Cornwall, Ont.

Laing and Savill won two Brier and world championships plus 12 Grand Slams during their time together on Team Howard.

“Somebody in the crowd yelled, ‘I love your new team,’ and I just yelled back, ‘Me too,’” Epping said with a smile. “It’s been great and we can feel the crowd support. I know a lot of people are very happy to have Savill and Laing back together and that dynamic and being in our home province we’re going to have a little bit more support too.”

Only three men’s games were on the ice with the women’s division having the draw off. A women’s division was added to the Princess Auto Elite 10 for the first time this season bringing parity across the seven-event series.

Teams earn three points for a regulation win, two points for a shootout win and one point for a shootout loss. The top six teams overall, regardless of pools, qualify for the weekend playoffs.

Round-robin action continues at 8 p.m. ET with broacast coverage on Sportsnet and online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and (international).

NOTES: Winners of the Princess Auto Elite 10 earn $24,000 of the $200,000 prize purse plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup taking place April 23-28 in Saskatoon. … Points are also on the line for the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to the season champions in the series with a $75,000 bonus for the winners.