Brendan Bottcher shoots a stone during the Players' Championship on April 12, 2019, in Toronto. (Anil Mungal)

Bottcher, Koe qualify for Players’ Championship playoffs

April 12, 2019, 2:46 PM

TORONTO — The playoff picture is forming fast in the Players’ Championship with Team Brendan Bottcher, Team Kevin Koe and Team Glenn Howard clinching spots during Friday’s early afternoon draw.

Team Bottcher, from Edmonton, put the beat down on hometown favourites Team John Epping 7-1 in six ends at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre to wrap up round-robin play with a 3-2 record.

Bottcher went 6-0 through the Meridian Canadian Open in January to capture his first career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title but it’s been a different story here with a roller-coaster round robin.

“You take the best 12 teams in the world, it’s hard to imagine you’ll go through the whole event undefeated,” Bottcher said. “I guess if you’re going to have to choose where to lose a game or two, it would’ve been in the round robin. I feel like we’re playing well now so we can hopefully get on a bit of a roll.”

The Players’ Championship is the sixth event and fourth major of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season featuring 12 of the top men’s teams and 12 of the top women’s teams based on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date standings.

“This is sort of a culmination of a great season for everyone that’s here and you’re getting everyone that’s played their best all at the same time,” Bottcher said. “That always makes for a pretty tough event.”

Bottcher, who also topped Epping in the Meridian Canadian Open final, broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth end with an open draw for a deuce and covered the pin for extra style points.

“That’s important,” Bottcher said. “Sometimes when all you’re trying to do is hit the house, you throw it through so try and put it on the pin and you miss, it’s back button or top four and you’re still happy.”

Epping (2-3) struggled in the next two stanzas wrecking his last in the fifth and failing on an angle raise attempt with his final rock of the sixth as it sailed through the house untouched to concede pairs of points.

Sticking to their own game plan was the key for Bottcher.

“I felt like early we were struggling a little bit,” he said. “We strung together a good deuce there in the fourth end and felt like we had control once we got up on the scoreboard.”

Meanwhile, Team Koe, of Calgary, cruised by Scotland’s Team Ross Paterson 7-3 in only five. The reigning Brier champion and world silver medallist Koe is through at 3-1 with one more group game to go in the evening against Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat.

“We’re a little tired after the worlds and we lose our first game (to Howard), it could have been easy for us to fold the tent and just go away but three games in a row and we’re in the playoffs,” Koe said. “That’s all we wanted and then once you get into the quarters it’s anybody’s game. We’re throwing it good, the ice looks good, so we’re where we need to be anyway. We’re very happy.”

Koe jumped out of the gate counting four in the first frame, a deuce in the third and a steal of one in the fourth. Paterson (1-3) potted two in the second and was limited to a single in the fifth.

“It’s tough for us to just try and ramp it up but at the same time we’ve also been playing a lot of games, so we’re kind of game-tested,” Koe said. “We played good against Glenn and he hardly missed a shot, so we thought if we played like that we’ll win a couple games for sure. We got a couple of breaks but we haven’t really given guys much of a chance after that.

“Happy for the guys. Just to make playoffs is an accomplishment after we were home for about 12 hours after the worlds. We’ve still got to play tonight and then the quarters, hopefully, we can ride it out and do well. There’s a lot on the line but yeah, feeling good.”

Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., held off reigning world champions Team Niklas Edin from Sweden 5-2. Howard climbed to a 3-1 record while Edin sits at 2-2.

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The Pinty’s Cup chase for the overall season points title and the $75,000 bonus is also heating up on the men’s side. Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., entered the event in the lead at 34 points but with a slim three-point margin over Koe. Epping sat in third with 30 points followed by Team Brad Jacobs (29), Howard (25), Mouat (22) and Bottcher (21).

Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., got back on track heading into the playoffs. After losing to Jacobs on Thursday, Gushue closed out round-robin play at 4-1 following a 6-1 victory over Regina’s Team Matt Dunstone.

“It’s obviously great any time you get into the playoffs, especially in our situation with the Pinty’s Cup on the line and us right in the thick of it with a bunch of other teams, so we’ve got to keep pace,” Team Gushue lead Geoff Walker said. “Obviously, getting into the playoffs is the first step and then go from there.”

Gushue played it by the book to start with a deuce in the first and managed to force Dunstone (0-5) to just a single in the second after a close end. It was all Gushue from there with another two-spot in three followed by back-to-back single steals in four and five.

“Any time you can start with even just the deuce in the first end, that is always a great situation when you just look at the calibre of teams and obviously the odds with the lead early and to back that up with a force,” Walker said. “It was a scary second end. It could have been very easily a three.

“We were in a little bit of trouble, they had a couple of chances to make something for two, maybe three and we were lucky to get out of it with a force and then bouncing back with a deuce, you’re going to win that game most of the time.”

Jacobs also finished at 4-1 after dropping a 7-6 decision to Team Peter de Cruz of Switzerland. De Cruz, who earned bronze at the world championship, ended with a 2-3 record and plays the waiting game with his fate to be determined after the evening draw.

Round-robin action continues at 4 p.m. ET with broadcast coverage on Sportsnet ONE and streaming online at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).