Horgan defeats Howard to earn final spot at Canadian Olympic curling trials

Tanner Horgan defeated one of the most decorated skips in curling on Sunday night at the pre-trials tournament in Liverpool, N.S., earning the final spot at the Olympic trials in Saskatoon beginning Nov. 20.

Jacqueline Harrison, Jason Gunnlaugson also secure spots in Saskatoon

Team Horgan booked a spot at the Canadian Olympic curling trials on Sunday night by defeating Team Howard 7-4 at the pre-trials tournament in Liverpool, N.S. (Michael Burns/Curling Canada)

Tanner Horgan defeated one of the most decorated skips in curling on Sunday night at the pre-trials tournament in Liverpool, N.S., earning the final spot at the Olympic trials in Saskatoon beginning Nov. 20.

Horgan beat 59-year-old Glenn Howard in the 'B' side qualifier final, 7-4, clinching his first-ever trials berth.

The 23-year-old skip curled 94 per cent, a dazzling performance in the high-stress game.

"I can't find the words. Relief. A lot of hard work, relief," Horgan told CBC Sports. "I think that's the most comfortable I've been under the TV lights. It's a huge milestone for me and us as a team."

His sister, Tracy Fleury, is also skipping at the trials in Saskatoon.

"Tracy is just playing fantastic," Horgan said. "It's going to be hard to stay focused on our games. Tracy has been curling so well."

Horgan and his brother, Jacob, teamed up with Kingston-based curlers Jonathan Beuk, Wes Forget and Scott Chadwick this past off-season to form a new team — Beuk, Forget and Chadwick represented Ontario at the Brier in 2019.

Now their dream of competing for Canada at the Olympics is still alive.

"The goal going in is to keep playing as well as we are and turn some heads," Horgan said.

Horgan started the pressure-packed game strong. In fact, he was curling 100 per cent through six ends and had a 3-1 lead on Howard at the midway point.

Howard found himself on the ropes in the sixth end, facing four Horgan stones on his last. But the veteran skip was able to remove three of the stones, only giving up a steal of one to keep his team in the game down 4-1 heading to the seventh.

After a rare miss by Horgan on his last, Howard had a chance to get back into the game with a tap for two, but he rolled out and only scored a single point, trailing 4-2.

That was as close as Howard would get. Horgan tacked on two more in the 8th end to take control of the game.

It was a resilient effort by the younger Horgan team having missed a chance to clinch a trials spot to begin the day.

"The key was going into this and enjoying the moment," Horgan said. "You're playing a big game against an all-time great. We've played against these teams. We know we can beat some of them."

Gunnlaugson, Harrison also book trials spots

Earlier on Sunday, Jason Gunnlaugson, from Morris, Man., and Jacqueline Harrison, of Dundas, Ont., both secured trials spots with wins in Liverpool, N.S.

Harrison defeated Corryn Brown 9-2, Sunday afternoon to earn the final women's trials spot. It's her first appearance at the event.

Gunnlaugson defeated Horgan 9-8 in the 'A' side final earlier on Sunday. This will be the second appearance at the Olympic trials for the 37-year-old Manitoba skip.

"I think it's a relief more than joy," Gunnlaugson told CBC Sports. "The first time I got there it was pure joy. This is a relief."

Horgan, who didn't lose a game the entire week, took a 4-3 lead into the break.

However, with the teams tied 5-5 in the eighth end, Gunnlaugson scored three for an 8-5 lead with two ends remaining.

But Horgan wasn't about to go down without a fight, bouncing back with three of his own in the ninth to set up a dramatic finish with the game tied 8-8.

With the game on the line and his fate in his own hands, Gunnlaugson delivered a winning draw to the full eight-foot. His sweepers, Matt Wozniak and Connor Njegovan, were leaning on their brooms most of the way down the ice to get the rock into the winning position and notch the 9-8 victory.

"It was a fantastic sweep. I didn't want to throw it too hard. I knew I was fired up and the last thing I wanted to do was throw it too hard," Gunnlaugson said. "I have great sweepers who work their butts off every day and they got it there."

Harrison, who lost the 'A' side final on Saturday night to Krista McCarville's rink, was able to rebound in the 'B' side final on Sunday afternoon, defeating Corryn Brown of Kamloops. B.C., 9-2.

Harrison stole five consecutive points between ends three to six to take a commanding 7-0 lead she would never relinquish.

Team Harrison found redemption on Sunday afternoon after losing the 'A' side final on Saturday night to Team McCarville. (Michael Burns/Curling Canada)

On Saturday night, Thunder Bay, Ont. skip Krista McCarville was the first to clinch an Olympic trials spot by defeating Harrison 9-6.

Gunnlaugson and his teammates become the second, rallying from a tough start in Nova Scotia to book their spot in Saskatchewan.

"[Winning at pre-trials is] a good spot. Historically, the pre-trials teams have done well. We'll head to the [Grand] Slam and then rest up before training hard before the trials," Gunnlaugson said.

"We feel we're a top-nine team in this country in this quadrennial and to not be there would have stung. We had two early losses but we battled and got through."

Final fields set

The fields for Saskatoon are now complete. Teams qualified for the Olympic trials on the men's side include: Matt Dunstone, Mike McEwen, Brendan Bottcher, John Epping, Brad Gushue, Brad Jacobs, Kevin Koe, Jason Gunnlaugson and Tanner Horgan.

On the women's side, Kelsey Rocque, Laura Walker, Casey Scheidegger, Kerri Einarson, Tracy Fleury, Rachel Homan, Jennifer Jones, Krista McCarville and Jacqueline Harrison have all qualified for Saskatoon.

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