SPORTS

Northern Ontario races to early playoff berth at Canadian curling championship

03/04/2015 01:48 EST | Updated 05/04/2015 05:59 EDT
CALGARY - Brad Jacobs was excited about the arrival of his wife Shawna and infant daughter Camille in Calgary on Wednesday. Clinching a berth very early in the premiere playoff game at the Tim Hortons Brier? That too, when he found out.

"Thanks for letting me know," the Northern Ontario skip said. "That's a beauty. We'll take it."

If Jacobs and teammates were unaware of the reward that came with a 4-3 win over Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock in the afternoon draw, it's because they haven't thought about anything else on the ice except execution and winning.

At 9-0, the Jacobs rink from Sault Ste. Marie looks a lot like that coldly intense team that won Olympic gold in Sochi, Russia, just over a year ago.

Of the 82 ends they've played at this year's Canadian men's curling championship, they've trailed in just one — back in their second game against Alberta.

"Physically, emotionally, I don't think we could feel any better as a team," Jacobs said.

With five draws remaining, the reigning Olympic champions not only secured a playoff berth early, but assured themselves a spot in the playoff between the top two seeds.

Jacobs, Ryan Fry and the front end of E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden won their first Canadian championship two years ago and went on to finish second to Sweden at the world championship.

The top four teams at the conclusion of the preliminary round Friday morning make the Page playoffs. The winner of Friday's playoff game between the top two seeds advances directly to Sunday's final.

The loser drops to Saturday's semifinal to face the winner of the playoff between the third and fourth seeds earlier that day.

The last time team to tun the table en route to a Canadian championship was Alberta's Kevin Martin in Calgary in 2009. Ontario's Glenn Howard went 11-0 in the preliminary round the following year, but lost in the final.

Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador got to a record of 7-2 with a pistol of a shot on his final throw against Alberta's Kevin Koe. An intricate double raise double takeout for an 8-7 victory kept Gushue very much in playoff contention and had the skip pumping his fist.

"I guess it would be a double-raise, double-around-the-horn something or other," was Gushue's description of that shot. "I'm not going to lie. I think I'm a really good curler, but I'm not going to make that too many times.

"I think in that situation, with a shot to win a game at the Brier and really a very meaningful game at the end of the week when you're talking playoff situations, one in a hundred."

Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard and Team Canada's John Morris were are tied at 6-3 and Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock is 5-3 heading into Thursday.

Alberta's Koe and Manitoba's Reid Carruthers are both at 4-4. Koe beat his brother Jamie, who skips Northwest Territories, 7-4 in the Wednesday evening draw.

Saskatchewan's Laycock edged Prince Edward Island's Adam Casey 7-6 in an extra end after losing two in a row. B.C.'s Jim Cotter dropped to 3-5 after losing 8-3 to Manitoba.

New Brunswick's Jeremy Mallais beat Ontario's Mark Kean 9-4 to put both teams at 2-6 alongside P.E.I. Northwest Territories is winless in eight games.

Canada has won four in a row in the two days since Morris demoted himself to third and promoted Pat Simmons to skip.

"Obviously we're feeling more comfortable and playing a little bit better right from stem to stern which is good," Simmons said.

Quebec has also won four in a row. Their provincial championship was mid-January. Menard and his teammates live in different communities and hadn't played any games together since then upon their arrival in Calgary.

"The last game before coming here was the final of our provincial championship so now it's slowly starting to come to get back together to the kind of game we've been playing pretty much all of the season," Menard said.

Laycock made a spectacular quadruple takeout to lay three in the seventh end against Jacobs. The skip countered with a takeout that cleared the house and forced Saskatchewan to blank the end. It's been that kind of tournament so far for Northern Ontario.

"We've stayed really even-keeled this entire event," Harnden said. "I think the mental side of our game is matching the technical side.

"That's where we want to keep the momentum going, keep even-keeled, eliminate the distractions and just focus on the ice and what we have to do on the ice."

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had Jacobs winning the 2013 world championship instead of finishing second.

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