Kevin Martin completed an inspired comeback on Friday night to make the playoffs at the BDO Canadian Open.
After starting the Capital One Grand Slam tournament with two consecutive losses, the Olympic champion needed to win his final three games to even have a shot at the tiebreaker round. The Old Bear from Edmonton did just that and more, capping his resurgence with an 8-3 win over Robert Schlender in the final round-robin draw at the K-Rock Centre in Kingston, Ont.
The top eight skips make the playoffs, and Martin's win left him in a three-way tie for the final two spots with Kevin Koe and Jean-Michel Menard, who also finished 3-2. But Martin was spared the indignity of having to go through a tiebreaker round because his team fared the best of the tied teams in the draw to the button contest.
Menard defeated Koe 8-3 in the tiebreaker on Saturday morning to earn the final playoff spot.
Martin faces a tall order in Saturday's quarter-finals (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 2 p.m. ET), where he'll face reigning world champion Jeff Stoughton, who finished 4-1 after losing to Glenn Howard in the final draw. But Martin's squad is the proverbial "team no one wants to face in the playoffs" after winning their last three games by a combined score of 23-7.
Much of the chatter in Kingston surrounds the so-called 5-rock rule being tested this week. Under the change, players are not allowed to remove an opponent's stone that is resting in the free guard zone until the sixth stone of each end. The idea is to generate more offence.
Several players indicated they have mixed emotions about the rule, and that the biggest difference seems to be that teams with a two- or three-point lead are being forced to throw more draws and touch shots, rather than being able to simply hit their way through a clean end.
Kevin Martin said the change has been "fun" but it's too early to tell if it's a keeper.
"We're getting high-scoring games, so that's great, he said. "That's what football has been trying to do, and hockey and all the sports, trying to get more offence."
"It's going pretty positively right now, but hold the phone. We want to make sure we talk to the fans and then survey the players after two or three events. Then you have a pretty good idea. We can't just look at it after one event."
Brad Jacobs said the players need more time to adjust.
"It's going to take some time to get used to [the rule] if we're going to keep it. As of right now, I'd have to say I'm not a huge fan of it."
— Jesse Campigotto, CBC Sports
Martin said his team took some time to get its sea legs in its first tournament since winning the prestigious Canada Cup of Curling in Cranbrook, B.C., two weeks ago.
"We just came out flat in our first game [a 4-3 loss to Brad Jacobs], and then we played Koe, who just played great and beat us [7-5]. Nothing you can do about that. But the last three we've played pretty darn good, so hopefully we're getting a little energy back.
"It's hard to come off a big win and not have a lull. And we sure as heck lulled."
World No. 1 Mike McEwen — the only skip to finish a perfect 5-0 after defeating Niklas Edin in a battle of unbeaten skips in the round-robin finale — will face the winner of the Koe-Menard tiebreaker, which takes place at 9:30 a.m. ET.
The other quarter-final match-ups pit Howard against Jacobs, and Rob Fowler against Edin. Each of those skips finished 4-1.
Big names Brad Gushue and Randy Ferbey missed the playoffs, though both at least went out on a high note as spoilers in the final draw.
Three-time former world champion Ferbey forced Koe into the tiebreaker with a 7-6 win that was decided on the final stone when Ferbey's fourth, David Nedohin, scored a deuce. That moment gained even more significance on Saturday when Koe fell to Menard in the tiebreaker.
Jacobs has emerged as the upset story of the tournament, clinching a playoff spot for the first time ever at a Grand Slam event.
The 26-year-old Sault Ste. Marie skip's terrific week is all the more surprising given the struggles he endured at his most recent outing. Earlier this month at the Canada Cup, Jacobs "got pumped," in his words, finishing tied for the worst record at 1-5.
That disaster prompted a sit-down between Jacobs and his teammates, who talked about their tendency to get down after tough losses or even when things didn't go their way during games.
The meeting seems to have turned things around, as their improvement at this tournament is "all mental," Jacobs said.
"We haven't been [reacting negatively] at all this week, even if we're down or we've missed a couple shots."
Though he's new to the Slam playoffs, this isn't Jacobs's first time moving past the round robin at a big bonspiel. He won the bronze medal at the 2010 Brier, where he represented Northern Ontario.
"At the Brier you're playing for money and points, but also a lot of pride and to be crowned Canadian champions," he said. "Making the playoffs at the Brier is a little bit more of a special feeling because it's only once a year. But this feel great."
"We can't take our foot off the gas. We need to keep playing well, stay focused and not worry about who we're playing. We feel like our biggest opponent is ourselves."