The North American team got two well-timed shots in the arm to close out the opening day of the World Financial Group Continental Cup Thursday in Penticton, B.C.
Big victories by Canadian skips Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard in men's team games of curling's version of the Ryder Cup helped the North Americans claw back some of the World team's lead after three rounds of action Thursday.
The defending champions will still carry a 5-4 edge into Day 2 of the event. The first team to claim 30.5 points of the 60 available will take the title.
Martin's Edmonton rink has struggled of late, with their skip undergoing hernia surgery in December. But in his first full game back on the ice, Martin made an inturn draw to the four-foot in the final end to beat the World team's Tom Brewster 4-3.
"I felt really good, actually — the whole game," said Martin, the 2010 Olympic gold medallist. "I really enjoyed getting back out on the ice. It's been a while."
Martin wrapped up his game and then watched Howard's Coldwater, Ont., rink pull out an exciting 6-3 win over Thomas Ulsrud. Howard made a tough double-takeout with his final shot of the eighth end, eliciting a celebratory fist pump from his long-time rival Martin.
"That was a hard shot, and he didn't have a lot of time," said Martin with a smile. "No timeouts, no time on the clock. That's a heavy-pressure shot."
Howard was a part of the North American team that went down to defeat to World squad last year in Langley, B.C. It was a result that was determined when the World squad built a massive early lead over the first two days.
"Last year we got ourselves into a hole right at the beginning of the week and we couldn't come back," said Howard. "We definitely don't want to do that again here. To get two out of the three was great. We're only one point back, and we can claw back at them."
In the other evening game, the World team's Niklas Edin prevented a North American sweep with an 8-7 win over Heath McCormick of the U.S., making a draw for the win in the eighth end after forcing McCormick to one in the seventh.
That result allowed the World team to keep a lead it built earlier in the day after the women's team and mixed doubles games.
"It was really important [to lead after the first day]," said Edin. "On paper, they have so many strong players and so many good teams. So I think it's really important for us to have the lead and build confidence throughout the entire squad. We're in a good position, I think."
The event continues with three draws on Friday, including the women's team games, women's and men's singles and men's team games.
The winning side receives $52,000 ($2,000 per member, including captain and coach), while the losing side gets $26,000 ($1,000 per member, including captain and coach). As well, the side that generates the highest point total in Sunday's six skins games will receive an additional $13,000.
Each side has won four Continental Cups.