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Defending champs stay alive – barely – at Juniors

It looked like defending champion Prince Edward Island (Brett Gallant of Charlottetown), for all intents and purposes, was about to be eliminated in Draw 13 Wednesday morning at the M&M Meat Shops Canadian Juniors.

Down 2, playing the 10th, without hammer and facing a young Yukon team (skip Thomas Scoffin of Whitehorse) which had been in front from the third end on and held an 8-4 lead after eight ends.   How does one escape this jam?  Even Houdini would have been shocked.

With Yukon up 8-6, somehow Prince Edward Island was able to steal two in the 10th end when Scoffin’s last rock draw just rubbed one of the PEI stones in the four-foot and rolled too far.

That meant an extra end, and with Scoffin now staring at four opposition stones in the house, two in the four-foot, two in the top 12, the 15-year-old tried a come-around draw with his last but wrecked on a guard.  Game over. The Islanders win it, 12-8 with another steal…this time of  four.

“I have no idea (how we got out of it),” said the 19-year-old Gallant, who won the 2009 Canadian Junior men’s final last year in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, then earned a silver medal at the World Juniors in Vancouver.

“We played a real good ninth, 10th and 11th end, but we got fortunate.  They missed a few shots the last few ends.  We struggled the first half, trying to put the rocks in the right spots and they jumped all over us.  I had a shot for four in the fifth end and only got one and took our own out.”

“But I’m proud of my guys for hanging in there,” continued Gallant, who, after last night’s loss to Saskatchewan, pulled out his lucky white hat for today’s match.

The win moved Prince Edward Island to 6-3, behind Manitoba, which suffered its first loss this morning, and Saskatchewan, both at 7-1, with Ontario sandwiched between the group at 6-1.

So, Gallant still needs help, regardless of how the team fares the rest of the way, since only three teams make the playoffs.

“We have to win our next three games.  Every one’s a big one.  We just have to come in a little sharper earlier.  We needed a couple of breaks this week and we got one there.”

Indeed.

There was certainly some history between the two skips, but not in an ‘animosity’ kind of way.  Gallant was the youngest to ever skip at the Juniors when he took the national stage, at age 13, in 2004.  But Scoffin replaced him in 2007 in St. Catharines, when as a 12-year-old, he debuted at the Juniors as the Yukon skip.

And of course, Gallant, making his sixth appearance, set a career games-won record on Sunday night, winning his 42nd as a skip at the Juniors, replacing Quebec’s Martin Crête in the history books.

In other games, Manitoba (Alex Forrest of Winnipeg) suffered its first loss, 9-4 at the hands of Northern Ontario (Christian Tolusso of Thunder  Bay); Saskatchewan (Braeden Moskowy of Regina) had no trouble with Newfoundland and Labrador (Kelly Schuh of St. John’s), 10-4 while Ontario (Jake Walker of Kitchener) continued to roll with a 9-4 decision over Quebec (Kevin Rivest of Montreal).

On the women’s side, Ontario (Rachel Homan of Ottawa) is now the only undefeated team, men or women, after taking out Quebec (Camille-Marie Lapierre of Otterburn Park), 9-5.  The victory improved its record to 7-0.   Homan was the runner-up at last year’s Canadian Juniors.

Meanwhile, Northern Ontario (Kendra Lilly of Sudbury) lost to Manitoba (Breanne Meakin of Winnipeg), 6-4, while Saskatchewan (Trish Paulsen of Saskatoon) handily defeated Newfoundland and Labrador (Jen Cunningham of St. John’s), 6-3.

Thus, Northern Ontario and Saskatchewan are now knotted for second place with 6-2 records.  In the other game, Prince Edward Island (Sarah Fullerton of Cornwall) bested Yukon (Sarah Koltun of Whitehorse), 11-7 to improve to 5-4 while Yukon dropped to 2-5.

The round robin continues at Le Colisée and Club de curling Aurèle-Racine with draws at 2:30 pm and 7:00 pm.