Jennifer Jones shoots a stone during the opening draw of the Players' Championship in Toronto on April 10, 2018. (Anil Mungal)

Jones opens Players’ Championship defence with win over Muirhead

April 10, 2018, 9:44 PM

TORONTO — Jennifer Jones kicked off her Players’ Championship title defence with a narrow 5-4 victory over Eve Muirhead.

The reigning world champion from Winnipeg drew for two in the eighth end to edge Muirhead during Tuesday night’s opening draw of the crown jewel Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament at Ryerson’s Mattamy Athletic Centre.

Jones earned her record sixth Players’ Championship women’s title at the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens last season and said it’s big to start off with a win.

“It’s a really tough field so you’ve got to get every win you can get,” she said. “I thought it was a pretty good game, lots of good shots made, especially on the first draw of the event. Sometimes it’s not that way. It was good to get a W there.”

Jones didn’t open with the hammer but punched the scoreboard first with a steal. Her lead was short-lived though as the Scottish skip Muirhead took two in the second and stayed one step ahead down to the wire as the teams alternated singles in three and four and again in six and seven.

With one in her pocket, Jones credits lead Dawn McEwen and second Jill Officer for helping brush her last stone into the four-foot circle to secure the clutch two-pointer in the final frame.

“I had to draw to the four-foot with the last shot of the game and the girls swept it perfectly,” Jones said. “It’s a nice way to start the event for sure.”

Team Jones third Kaitlyn Lawes has been on a roll lately having also earned an Olympic gold medal in mixed doubles at the Pyeongchang Winter Games in February.

The Players’ Championship features 12 of the top women’s teams and 12 of the top men’s teams in the world. Teams are split into two pools for round-robin play with the best eight overall qualifying for the weekend playoffs.

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Elsewhere, American Nina Roth stole three in the eighth to escape with a 6-4 victory over Rachel Homan of Ottawa.

Homan was up by one with the hammer coming home but was light on her last in a battle of the recent Olympic reps.

Toronto’s very own John Epping began his hometown tournament in the win column defeating Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers 6-5.

The teams traded pairs of points in the first couple ends and Carruthers added a single in the fifth to pull ahead 3-2. The teams matched with deuces again in six and seven and Epping tacked on two more points in the eighth to take the set.

“It was really good and always nice to get off to a start with a win,” said Epping, who has won three Grand Slams including the 2012 Players’ Championship. “You’re kind of settling in a little bit with the ice conditions that first night, just trying to get a good feel for the ice for the week and it was great out there.

“It was a battle, down early and they kind of controlled the game but we were able to crack a couple late deuces.”

Epping was thankful for the support of his fans who were making noise for all of their shots, even guards from lead Tim March.

“They’ll cheer any make out here so we’re happy about that,” Epping said with a smile.

Team Carruthers has Jeff Stoughton subbing at third and calling the game this week. The four-time Grand Slam champion, who stepped back from curling after this event in 2015, was also in action with the squad last month at the Princess Auto Elite 10 as vice skip Braeden Moskowy has left the club. Mike McEwen takes over at fourth full-time next season with Carruthers sliding over to third and still skipping.

Winnipeg’s Jason Gunnlaugson clipped Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., 7-5 in an extra end to wrap up the opening draw.

Round-robin play resumes Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. ET. Television coverage begins Thursday at Noon ET on Sportsnet with online streaming available at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare TV (international).