Kevin Koe releases his rock during the semifinals of the Players' Championship in Toronto on April 14, 2018. (Anil Mungal)

Koe, Edin to clash for Players’ Championship men’s title

April 14, 2018, 10:54 PM

TORONTO — Kevin Koe has rolled right through the Players’ Championship and into the men’s final.

Koe and his Calgary crew completed their seventh straight victory at the pinnacle Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament drawing to the button in an extra end to clip Mike McEwen’s team from Winnipeg 5-4 during Saturday’s semifinals.

The four-time Grand Slam winner Koe beat McEwen in December’s Roar of the Rings final for the right to represent Canada at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

“We had thrown that draw in the seventh end, so we knew the path and he threw it great,” Team Koe third Marc Kennedy said. “Almost didn’t curl enough but he doesn’t miss very many of those. He’s made a lot of those over the last four years. We’re lucky to have him, we’re lucky to have a shot to win and even luckier that he made it.”

Team Koe collides with reigning world and defending Players’ champions Team Niklas Edin from Sweden for the title Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET (Watch on CBC).

“We’ve had some great battles with him over the years, so it helps that we’re starting with the hammer and hopefully, we can play like we just did,” Kennedy said. “I’m sure it’ll be a great one for the fans.”

Kennedy is taking a break from competitive curling following the season and is looking to following in the footsteps of his former skip Kevin Martin, who capped his career winning the Players’ Championship in 2014.

“I think we’ve lost three semis this year in the Slams, so to get to the final, we played really well and it feels great,” Kennedy said. “Knowing it might be the last one for me, it’s a lot like what the Old Bear did back in 2014, so it feels wonderful.”

Edin surged in the second half to rally from a three-point deficit scoring two in the sixth and stealing singles in the seventh and eighth ends to edge Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., 6-5 in a repeat of last Sunday’s world championship gold-medal game.

“To be honest, after giving it up our team spirits were pretty low,” Edin said. “We had no energy out there and maybe that was making them also lower their level a little bit because they started making mistakes and we played faster and without really thinking about the consequences.

“We made a few hero shots and calls that were last-chance calls, but we made the shots really well, perfectly, and then on his last one he rolls to a spot where we can actually get a freeze. I haven’t seen anything like it in a long time, actually. We didn’t deserve that win one bit but at the same time, a strong performance to stick into it and actually give it a chance.”

Team Edin is looking for its fourth championship in the series with two runner-up finishes this season.

“We had already counted that one out so it feels weird,” Edin said. “I think I’ve got to sleep on this. Obviously, tomorrow morning when we wake up we’re going to be 100 percent focusing on winning the final. I think we’re going to see a totally different game then. I think we’re just a little bit tired this afternoon.”

Gushue, who has won two Pinty’s GSOC titles in 2017-18, was still a big winner on the day despite the loss as he collected the $75,000 Bonus Cup as the season champion in the series.

“The first job we had here this week was to win the [Bonus] Cup, that was the most important thing,” Gushue said. “It’s about season-long success and being the best at the Slams all year, which is the best-on-best. We’re pretty proud of it.”

The nine-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title winner Gushue now turns his attention to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup, the only one he hasn’t won as he looks to become the first skip ever to check them all off of the list.

“Certainly after the last week and this week it’s been some pretty disappointing finishes for us,” Gushue said. “If we can muster up enough energy, we’re not going to get much practice in between now and the Champions Cup, but certainly I’d like to win and finish off all seven of them.”

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Meanwhile, reigning world champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg will also play for an opportunity to retain her Players’ title facing American Jamie Sinclair in the women’s final Sunday at 5 p.m. ET (Watch on Sportsnet One).

Jones kept her jaw-dropping winning streak intact — but just barely — as she stole in the eighth end to defeat Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson 7-5.

“It was a great game,” Team Jones third Kaitlyn Lawes said. “Einarson’s team played really well and we just tried to hang tough. Jenn made a beauty on her last one and put some pressure on her.”

Team Jones has won 27 consecutive games dating back to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in February.

Jones has claimed a record nine Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s titles and won her sixth Players’ Championship right here in the old Maple Leaf Gardens one year ago.

“We have to be a little bit sharper but I feel like we’ve had a really consistent week,” Lawes said. “I’m so excited to be playing in another Players’ Championship final, so hopefully we can bring our best game and just leave it all on the ice.”

Sinclair reached her first career final in a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament with a 4-3 win over Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland and was practically at a loss for words and needed a moment to collect her thoughts.

“It doesn’t really feel like a final,” Sinclair said. “I just feel like we’re still playing round-robin games, it’s just another game. We’re just turning around and going back out on the ice and making shots. I haven’t really thought about it being the finals yet. Not yet anyway.”

“It’s crazy,” she added. “We’re happy to be here, we’re enjoying the moment and we’re having fun out on the ice. We happen to be making a lot of good shots, so hopefully just keep the ball rolling.”

Sinclair lost to Jones twice en route to finishing fourth at the worlds but saw some positives in their second meeting.

“We had a really good comeback in the second game against her, so hopefully, we can just start strong, put some pressure on her when she has the hammer and keep that four-foot open when we have the hammer so that we make sure we have a shot to score,” Sinclair said. “I think if we can manage to do that, it’ll be a really close game.”

Online streaming of the finals is available at Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare TV (international).