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Jacobs team learns from poor results at Slam before trials, now peaking at right time

SASKATOON — Dropping three straight games at their last event might have been just what Brad Jacobs and his team needed before playing in Canada's Olympic curling trials.

SASKATOON — Dropping three straight games at their last event might have been just what Brad Jacobs and his team needed before playing in Canada's Olympic curling trials.

A quick exit from the recent Grand Slam competition forced the veteran rink to step up its game and preparation. The results are showing so far this week at SaskTel Centre.

Jacobs was in full control against defending champ Kevin Koe on Thursday, posting a key 8-2 victory against a fellow contender to move into sole possession of second place at 5-1. 

"We're enjoying just being able to go out there and sort of strut our stuff and give it everything we've got on every single shot," Jacobs said. "That's really all that we're concerned about."

A 1-3 mark at the National in Chestermere, Alta., served as a wake-up call before the biggest domestic event of the quadrennial. Jacobs described the showing as "getting our butts handed to us."

"It was the best thing that could have happened," said third Marc Kennedy. "I think we had a season where we were playing pretty good but we were getting quite a few misses from other teams.

"In Chestermere, it was teams playing really well against us and us kind of knowing, 'OK we need to pick up our game. We need to prepare hard and we've got to realize that this is not going to come easy.'"

At the trials, the powerful front end of Ryan Harnden and E.J. Harnden have set things up nicely for Kennedy and Jacobs, who have delivered for a team that appears efficient, engaged and energized. 

"We've been feeding off each other really well and it has been working," Kennedy said.

Jacobs opened with three impressive victories and his team threw 94 per cent in its only loss, an extra-end defeat to Brad Gushue. Quite a turnaround after scoring just nine points over three losses at the National.  

"I would say that we weren't nearly as engaged as we have to be," Jacobs said of the Slam. "We work really hard on the technical side of things and that didn't come out that week. We were fooled by the ice and by the rocks. 

"That really comes down to just being ready to play every time that you step out on the ice. That's our normal selves and we weren't our normal selves in that last event."

Jacobs has been showing the same form that led him to victory in the 2013 trials. He went on to win Olympic gold the following year. 

Kennedy, who joined the team in 2019, won Olympic gold in 2010 with Kevin Martin and returned to the Games in 2018 with Koe. 

Gushue (6-1), meanwhile, secured a playoff spot with a 10-1 rout of Tanner Horgan. Koe fell into a third-place tie at 4-2 with Mike McEwen, who beat John Epping 6-2.

"The intensity is rising," Jacobs said. "There's no doubt about it. There's a lot more on the line now. Every single game now is really affecting the standings and there's a lot of really good games left."

Round-robin play wraps up Friday night. The top three teams will make the playoffs.

Epping (3-3) and Jason Gunnlaugson (2-4) still have a chance at weekend play. Gunnlaugson nearly scored three to force an extra end but a measure confirmed a deuce in a 7-6 loss to Brendan Bottcher.

Bottcher fell to 2-5 ahead of Horgan (1-5) and the idle Matt Dunstone (1-5). 

Tracy Fleury (7-0) booked her playoff ticket with an 11-7 win over Laura Walker in the morning and secured the first seed and a bye to Sunday's final with a10-3 rout of Casey Scheidegger in the evening.  

Walker rebounded with a 9-5 win over Krista McCarville. Kerri Einarson beat Rachel Homan 7-6 and Kelsey Rocque defeated Jacqueline Harrison 8-5.

In the morning draw, Homan beat Jennifer Jones 7-5, McCarville edged Rocque 8-7 and Scheidegger topped Harrison 7-6. 

With one women's draw left to play, Jones was in second place at 5-2 and assured a playoff spot. Einarson was in third place at 4-3 and can book her weekend ticket Friday afternoon with a win over Rocque. 

McCarville finished at 4-4 and Scheidegger and Walker were 3-4. A four-way tie for third place remains a possibility depending on Friday's results.

Homan, Harrison and Rocque (all 2-5) will not make the cut. 

Tiebreakers (if needed) and semifinals will be played Saturday. The Beijing Games are set for Feb. 4-20.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2021.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press