PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE -- After a rough start to the curling season, Toronto's Mark Kean clawed his team into prime Prairie Classic position.
The 25-year-old skip and his crew -- third Travis Fanset, second Pat Janssen and lead Tim March -- clinched a playoff berth on Sunday evening with a tight, 5-4 B-side win over reigning Brier champion Brad Jacobs. The game was tied when Kean carried the hammer into the eighth end, nailed the single point and got the win. It came as a relief to seal the qualifier, especially against one of the world's top teams.
"We came out, we played exactly how we wanted to," Kean said. "We've had a lot of tough losses this year, and this is huge momentum for us against the Canadian, almost world champions. We needed a game like that."
Team Kean curled well through the Classic, dropping only one game, which happened to be against Swedish world champion Niklas Edin. Today, depending on the outcome of the late draw on Sunday, they'll face either Regina skip Brock Virtue -- who they took down 7-6 on Sunday morning -- or Sweden's Oskar Eriksson, who survived an afternoon elimination match against Toronto's John Epping to stay in the Prairie Classic.
The other B-side playoff spot was claimed by Ontario curling icon Glen Howard, who wielded the hammer to eke past Minnesota's John Shuster 6-5. In the quarter-finals today, Howard will face either John Morris or Winnipeg's Sean Grassie, who were slated to face off on Sunday night for the C-side's final qualifying berth.
Earlier on Sunday, Grassie pulled out a thrilling five-point end against Thunder Bay's Brian Adams Jr. en route to winning 8-5 and getting a chance to stay in playoff contention.
Already qualified for this morning's playoff battles were Winnipeg's Mike McEwen, who won the Prairie Classic for two years running in 2010 and 2011, and the event's reigning champion, Calgary's Kevin Koe. McEwen will face either Shuster or fellow elite Winnipeg skip Jeff Stoughton this morning, while Koe was to face the winner of a late Sunday match between Jacobs and Edin.
The final day of the competition opens with the quarter-finals at 10 a.m., followed by the semifinals at 2 p.m. The championship game is slated for 6 p.m. and will be broadcast live on Shaw TV.