TRURO, N.S. — Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen captured his sixth career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title with a 5-3 victory over Jim Cotter, of Vernon, B.C., in the Masters men’s final Sunday.
McEwen led by one coming home and made a sharp open draw to the four-foot circle while facing two counters to ice the game.
The team of McEwen, third B.J. Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak, lead Denni Neufeld have earned all six GSOC titles together — claiming their first at the Masters in 2010 when the event was known as the World Cup of Curling — but it’s their first with new “utility man” Jon Mead, who completed a career Grand Slam with Jeff Stoughton.
“To get one of these early in the season, it feels really good,” McEwen said. “You definitely can’t count on winning a Grand Slam any given year with the quality of teams we play against in these events. Any time you can get one early, you take it. It feels really good.”
McEwen’s wife Dawn returned to action this week from mat leave, rejoining reigning Olympic and Scotties champions Team Jennifer Jones after missing the season-opening Tour Challenge. Both Dawn and baby Vienna were among the spectators at the Rath Eastlink Community Centre during the final and McEwen said it was an amazing feeling having them on hand.
“To see Dawn even out here playing already at a high level, she’s a trooper,” he said. “I wasn’t sure she was going to be ready to play this week. It’s a full family affair, grandma and daughter will be following around the countryside most of the season.
“It definitely keeps things into perspective. If you have a really hard day, a smiling baby makes you feel pretty good.”
Cotter opened the final with hammer and drew to the button with his last rock in the first while facing a pair of counters in the four-foot circle to take a 1-0 lead. McEwen made his final throw in two through the port to hit and stick for one.
McEwen stole one in the third to take a 2-1 lead after Cotter missed his runback attempt to blank. Cotter held shot stone prior to his last throw and needed a piece of the button for two but it rolled heavy and he took just one to tie it. McEwen blanked the fifth and scored a deuce in six to go ahead.
Cotter was forced to score in seven facing two counters and hit and stuck for one as Team McEwen continued to make key shots to hold on.
“To get them at the right time that’s what you need to do at this level,” B.J. Neufeld said. “If you don’t it’s awfully hard. Every game comes down to maybe two misses. You have to be right on point and to win those games you’ve got to make some big shots at the right time otherwise you’ll be at the other end.”
It was Team Cotter’s first trip to a GSOC final since they finished runner-up at the 2012 Masters. Cotter, third Ryan Kuhn, second Tyrel Griffith, and lead Rick Sawatsky won the Tour Challenge Tier 2 event in September to earn a berth at the Masters.
Cotter’s crew qualified for the playoffs with a 3-1 record and stunned Olympic gold medallist Brad Jacobs, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., 8-1 in the quarterfinals. The team earned another big win to reach the final defeating Sasaktoon’s Steve Laycock 8-3.
Meanwhile, Team McEwen also finished 3-1 with their lone loss coming against Tour Challenge Tier 1 champions Team Kevin Koe of Calgary. McEwen beat Team Reid Carruthers 7-3 in an all-Winnipeg rink quarterfinal match and avenged the loss to Koe with an intense 5-4 victory in the semis.
Team McEwen have now also earned a spot in the season-ending Champions Cup, running April 26 to May 1, 2016, in Sherwood Park, Alta., and featuring the top winners of the curling year.
“That’s awesome, I’m very excited to play,” McEwen said. “I have no idea what it’s going to feel like playing in something May 1st, give or take a day or two there, but I’m really looking forward to that type of event. It’s such a unique setup. I’m happy to be in there.”
Next up on the 2015-16 Pinty’s GSOC schedule is the National, running Nov. 10-15 at the General Motors Centre in Oshawa, Ont.
Not only is McEwen the defending National champion, he also won the previous Grand Slam event held at the General Motors Centre, the 2010-11 Canadian Open.
“That was probably the most thrilling Grand Slam win of our career. I remember it pretty vividly,” McEwen said. “We were playing Team Howard and Glenn made a crazy shot to force me to have to follow him, basically, and through a tiny port to win. The crowds were great. We were actually holding up the TV from switching to the NHL All-Star broadcast. It was probably one of our most exhilarating wins in an extra end so I remember it pretty clear.”