Brad Jacobs delivers a stone during round-robin action at the Roar of the Rings on Dec. 4, 2017, in Ottawa. (Anil Mungal)

Olympic Trials: Jacobs picks up win over Gushue

December 5, 2017, 1:17 AM

OTTAWA — Brad Jacobs had quite the long layover to let a difficult loss linger during the Roar of the Rings.

The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native — who is looking to repeat as Canada’s men’s representative at the Winter Olympics — had to accept defeat Sunday morning at the hands of Calgary’s Kevin Koe when his last rock of the extra end rolled through the house to give up a steal.

That’s where the strong bond between Jacobs and his cousins, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden, plus third Ryan Fry shined as they rallied around their skip with a huge heavyweight tilt next in the cards Monday night against world champion Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L.

“I think we just took consolation in how well we were playing,” Harnden said. “We controlled that game against Koe. We played really well and unfortunately, we missed our last one. That happens.

“We wanted to remind Brad about how well he was playing, that we all miss a few shots out there and unfortunately it was his last one. We’re fully behind him. We wouldn’t want anyone skipping us other than him. Just make sure he was OK and he has the support that he needed because he’s curling extremely well, all of us are curling extremely well, and we wanted to just maintain that focus and that confidence going into today.”

Luck was on Jacobs’ side this time around when Gushue’s final shot of the second end went sideways, quite literally, as it picked to give up a huge steal of three and create a 4-0 gap. While it was still early in the game, that proved to be the difference maker in the 7-4 victory for Jacobs.

“It was one of those things where obviously it was a bad break for them and a break that kind of went our way,” Harnden said. “You don’t really know how the game is going to turn out after that. Maybe it could have gone one way or the other. It’s unfortunate to see.

“For us, it was just trying to maintain our focus, our composure and make sure we continue to play well because they’re such a good team that you can’t start to gear down. Once you get a lead you need to maintain focus and even be a little bit sharper because Brad and those guys are so good they can creep back into the game very quickly.”

Gushue regrouped as predicted and cut the deficit in half scoring two points in the third end. The teams traded singles in six and seven and Gushue left his last lined up in eight for Jacobs to double them out for a deuce. The nine-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title winner Gushue was only able to get one back in nine.

“Eight-end games and 10-end games, it’s a big difference,” Harnden said. “When you gain a lead and especially early, you make the joke that sometimes it’s too early. We’ll take it however way we can get it. I think we played well again tonight and hopefully, we just continue to gain some momentum starting from today.”

Jacobs, who went through the 2013 Canadian curling trials undefeated, improved to a 2-1 record while Gushue, the 2005 trials winner and 2006 Olympic gold medallist, is now level at 2-2.

Ottawa’s own Rachel Homan passed Monday’s two-game test with flying colours.

Homan methodically picked her spots to earn a 4-2 victory over Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., during the morning draw and scored big to beat Michelle Englot’s Winnipeg team 11-7 in the evening.

“It was a two-game day and our only two-game day so we took a nap in the middle and just knew that we were going to have to play really hard against two top teams,” Team Homan lead Lisa Weagle said.

The reigning world champion Homan moved up to a 3-1 record as both games were rematches from the Scotties Tournament of Hearts playoffs.

“We played McCarville in the Scotties semi and Englot in the final so definitely a Scotties feel and we’re pretty familiar with those two teams,” Weagle said. “They’re both really great teams and we knew we were going to have really good games here today.”

Being the home favourite was also a factor at the Tournament of Hearts as well with the national women’s championship taking place in St. Catharines, Ont., although the atmosphere at the Canadian Tire Centre is on another level for Team Homan.

“We love being the home team and having that home-ice advantage. The crowd has been awesome,” Weagle said. “Even for a 9 a.m. game there were lots of people here and we hope they just keep coming out more and more as the week goes on.

“We’re really excited to be in Ottawa. This is something we’ve looked forward to as soon as it was announced so we’re really enjoying the experience.”

The strategic tilt against McCarville played right into Homan’s hands. Homan opened with the hammer, drew for a single in the second and made it a 2-0 game stealing the third as McCarville faced four and rolled heavy.

McCarville got on the board with a point in four and Homan matched with one in five. After forcing McCarville to just another single in seven, Homan blanked the eighth and made a great double in nine to put doughnuts on the board again to retain the hammer for the final frame and up by one. Another amazing double by Homan in the 10th tacked on another point and iced the game.

A hit to score of four in the second end against Englot pushed Homan into the lead 4-1 but it remained a steady battle. The teams exchanged pairs of points in three and four and Englot narrowed the gap to one with a single in five and a steal in six. Homan and Englot traded sets of twos in seven and eight but it was game over after Homan got a three count in the ninth.

Team Jacobs and Team Flaxey will have to make do without their coach for now.

Caleb Flaxey, who is normally bouncing back and forth behind the boards for both clubs, had to rush back to Toronto for a second hip replacement surgery in three weeks.

E.J. and Ryan’s dad, Eric Harnden, was already in attendance and has taken over Flaxey’s coaching duties for Team Jacobs. Alternate Peter Steski has also increased his role by handling more rock duties and night practices.

“My dad actually came with the full intention of coming for the entire week and kind of being the coach in the stands,” E.J. Harnden said. “We’ve had the rocks covered with Caleb and Pete but my dad was coming here to chart all the sheets for us, so he would chart each sheet before we’d go on it and let us know if anything was different than what we’ve seen.

“Obviously very unfortunate for Caleb having to return home because of an illness and having to redo his surgery that he just had three weeks ago. The nice thing is we have my father here. He’s the main reason why three of us really are in the game of curling. He has a ton of experience and we always like to have him here regardless whether he’s behind the bench or just in the stands. It just makes us feel that much more comfortable. Brad was the one who said he wanted my dad to be behind the bench and have him there in case we needed him.”

Unity is key to the Jacobs crew as they have treated Fry like another member of the family.

“The thing with these guys is they can fight like brothers do,” Steski explained. “If you’re regular teammates, sometimes it can take longer to get over that but being family like these guys are they can push it aside. Once the game is over, it’s like it never happened.”

It didn’t work out that way at all when Steski played alongside his brothers though as they only lasted one season together in the mid-1990s.

“It always worked if it was just my older brother [John] and me or my younger brother [Jeff] and me,” said Steski, who is one of the Original 18 skips of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling having played in the inaugural 2001-02 season. “When we tried it with the three of us, it was a nightmare. I felt bad for the fourth teammate on the team because all he was doing was breaking up fights the whole time.”

Although Steski hasn’t played at the elite level in a while — minus a spot spare stint with Team Carruthers at the 2014 National and going 2-0 — the 46-year-old from Toronto gels quite well with Team Jacobs. That’s integral for big-time events like these where you don’t want to ruin the team’s chemistry and delicate dynamic. Steski knows his role here is to keep things light and loose.

“They’re a real focused type team,” Steski said. “After a tough loss like yesterday [to Koe], I can help them relax a little bit, inject a little humour and just get them grounded. Before the game, I do the same type of thing. I’m honoured that they rely a bit on my experience and things like that but I think for the most part it’s the intangible stuff, make them laugh and keep them relaxed.”

Steski also has strong ties to Northern Ontario and has co-opted the Toronto Raptors’ “We The North” slogan on Twitter for his own team’s cause.

“My grandpa went to the Brier in 1955 and then my dad actually went to two Canadian juniors in 1965 and 1966 out of the same club, the North Bay Granite Club,” he said. “My parents were both born in North Bay, we still have a cottage up there, so I do have pretty heavy northern roots despite what [Team Koe lead] Ben Hebert thinks.”

Only one of Chelsea Carey or Casey Scheidegger would remain undefeated after Monday afternoon.

Both teams entered their Battle of Alberta matchup with identical 2-0 records and the Calgary native Carey emerged victorious over Scheidegger of Lethbridge to climb to three wins with an 8-7 victory that required an extra end to solve of course.

“It feels awesome,” Team Carey second Jocelyn Peterman said. “We couldn’t have expected to come out any better. We’re playing strong and we’re enjoying it. That’s all you can ask for.”

Steals were a factor early with Carey, who conceded one in the first, turning the tables swiping singles in three and four to take a 3-1 lead when Scheidegger was heavy on her draws. Scheidegger bounced back with a deuce in five and poached a pair to pull ahead 5-3 when Carey overcooked her last in six.

Carey answered with a three-spot in seven to jump ahead again 6-5 as Scheidegger hit and jammed then went from bad to worse when her shot rolled out giving her opponent a freebie shot to anywhere in the house. It was singles back and forth in eight, nine and 10 to require overtime. Carey held the hammer in the extra, threw a pistol draw for shot rock on her first skip stone and didn’t need to toss her last as Scheidegger came up light and tight on her final attempt.

“It was good to have a close game and be really precise with some shots,” Peterman said. “We haven’t had a lot of that in the last two games, we were playing a lot of hits and stuff, so it’s nice to get a good variety of shots and get familiar with the ice.”

Carey, who won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 2016, has had a solid tour season highlighted with a runner-up finish at the Tour Challenge Tier 2 and recently reaching the National semifinals. All those experiences have helped set the mood for Team Carey on what to expect here although it is its own unique beast as well.

“It’s a little bit of a tougher schedule than the Slam schedule but lighter than the Scotties and we’re used to that. So one game a day as opposed to two there,” Peterman said. “It’s our only game today, we can go home, recoup and get a good rest for tomorrow.”

After a cumbersome start, Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers (1-2) climbed into the win column defeating Saskatoon’s Steve Laycock 9-5 in the afternoon draw.

Despite Laycock scoring deuces in one and three to lead 4-1, Carruthers took control thanks to a 96 percent performance. The whole team was sharp up and down the lineup — tossing 93 percent overall — with lead Colin Hodgson at 95, second Derek Samagalski at 94 and third Braeden Moskowy with an 88.

“Our team mantra has always been team grind,” Hodgson said. “We definitely weren’t coming through undefeated. Even to make the playoffs, every single game is going to be a grind and my head has never hurt so much playing curling in any event compared to this. It’s extremely exhausting but that’s the only way we’re going through is to go through that and to just keep grinding and try to make some luck happen for ourselves.”

Carruthers tied it 5-5 with a deuce in the eighth and stole one in nine for the lead when Team Laycock fourth Matt Dunstone misfired. Dunstone, whose team fell to a 1-3 record, went big in the 10th as well but whiffed again to concede three more points.

“It’s good that we finally had a little bit of luck come our way because the first two games we felt like we actually played pretty well,” Hodgson said. “Especially the game against Koe. That was probably one of our best games we’ve played as a team but still found a way to lose. Sometimes — well, at this event definitely — you need luck to win maybe every game. We were definitely fortunate there because they played a good game as well and Matty was on fire. It’s all about timely makes and timely misses to actually win any of these games.”

Make it 18 in a row for Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones. The reigning Olympic gold medallist continued her torrid winning streak doubling up on Julie Tippin of Woodstock, Ont., 12-6 in the evening to stay in the driver’s seat at the top of the table.

After Jones (4-0) counted a couple in the first, Tippin took two in the second and wrestled the lead stealing a pair in three. It was all Jones from there as she hit to score four in the fourth and the rout was on with trios in six and eight to run up the board while forcing Tippin (1-2) to singles five and seven.

Jones slid through the Masters and National Grand Slam of Curling tournaments undefeated prior to the Roar of the Rings.

Koe also clawed his way to a 4-0 record and remained in first place on the men’s side following an edgy 7-6 victory over Brendan Bottcher of Edmonton during the evening draw.

Team Bottcher third Darren Moulding let his frustrations get the better of him in the fourth end smashing his broom after a missed shot. Fortunately for Moulding, it was only his sliding broom and not his sweeping one. Had that been the case, Team Bottcher would have been short a sweeper when the front end was throwing.

Bottcher also struggled in the end and Koe capitalized for a three-pointer to tie it 4-4. The teams split singles in seven and eight, Bottcher stole one in nine, but Koe came up big again in the final frame to get the winning deuce.