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Alberta, Northern Ontario clinch playoff berths at Tim Hortons Brier

The last time Northern Ontario made the playoff round at the Tim Hortons Brier, Brad Jacobs was seven years old and had never shaken the chaff from a corn broom.

But Thursday morning, Jacobs and his outfit from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., put some swagger back into the Shield.

Jacobs’ young Northern Ontario outfit knocked off Newfoundland and Labrador 8-4 at the Halifax Metro Centre — improving its record to an impressive 8-2 and clinching the region’s first playoff berth at the Canadian men’s curling championship since 1993.

“I’m ecstatic right now. It’s been so long since Northern Ontario made the playoffs,” said Jacobs, who at 24 is the youngest skip at this Brier. “I know everyone back home is absolutely thrilled. We’re thrilled. We’ve got one more (round-robin) game here (against Quebec on Thursday afternoon) and we definitely want to finish strong, go out there and put on a nice performance.

“I guess we’re not that much of an underdog anymore, right?” asked Jacobs, whose Soo Curlers Association quartet includes third E.J. Harnden, second Ryan Harnden, and lead Caleb Flaxey. “We’ve played really well, and our percentages show that. We’ve definitely upset a couple of teams here, for sure. We’re thrilled for sure.

“To be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, like I said . . . it’s been such a long time, and I know my uncle Al (Harnden) and uncle Eric (Harnden, who’ve represented Northern Ontario at past Briers), they’re just so happy for us right now.”

In other Draw 15 results on Thursday morning, Alberta’s Kevin Koe defeated brother Jamie Koe and the Northwest Territories 8-3 in an historic battle that clinched a playoff berth for the gang from Wild Rose Country. Jeff Stoughton’s Manitoba crew kept its slim playoff hopes alive with a 9-3 win over Nova Scotia, and British Columbia edged New Brunswick 8-7 in a meeting of playoff also-rans.

With two round-robin draws remaining, Ontario (9-0) leads the pack, and has already been assured of a spot in the Page One-Two playoff game on Friday evening. Alberta (8-2) and Northern Ontario (8-2) are tied for second place, while Brad Gushue’s crew from the Rock (7-3) still holds the final playoff berth, one win up on Manitoba (6-4).  Still, that wasn’t much of a comfort factor for the 2006 Olympic gold medal-winning skip from St. John’s.

“We’re not very good, to be honest. It’s very frustrating. We’re throwing good rocks and we’re mis-sweeping them. We’re getting opportunities and we’re mis-throwing them,” said Gushue, whose Bally Haly Golf and Curling Club team includes third Mark Nichols, second Ryan Fry and lead Jamie Korab.

“This is probably, I would have to say, the worst 7-3 record we’ve ever had at the Brier to this point,” added Gushue. “We’re playing badly enough that we should be a lot worse than 7-3.

“We’re still in the (playoff) picture, but that one was real disappointing, because that took away any opportunity to get in the (Page) One-Two game, and now we’ve got to work our butts off tonight (against Quebec in Draw 17 at 7:30 p.m. AT) just to get into the (Page) Three-Four game, and we might not even get hammer in that one.

“That was a big loss, but fortunately we (can) regroup and come out much, much better tonight against Quebec.”

Meanwhile, over on Sheet A, the Koe brothers made history — marking only the third time in Brier history that two brothers had squared off as skips. It was also the second time in two years, after the Russ and Glenn Howard clashed in Calgary last spring.

As for big brother Kevin, 35, and little brother Jamie, 32, they’ve faced each other almost as infrequently.

In their only other high-level meeting, at the 2004 Canada Cup in Kamloops, B.C., Jamie’s team defeated a John Morris outfit that featured Kevin at third.

“So I guess we’re even now,” said Jamie, whose Territories outfit fell to 1-8 with the loss. “We really haven’t played each other at all over the years, so it’s kind of odd.

“Pretty cool. But it’s tough to play him,” added Jamie, whose Yellowknife Curling Club team includes third Kevin Whitehead, second Brad Chorostkowski, and lead Martin Gavin. “You want him to win, but we need a win ourselves. They were kind of on a roll, right now, so hopefully they can keep it going into the playoffs.

“It’s good that we can cheer him on this weekend in the playoffs. We’re going to be rooting for them.”

Alberta, headquartered at Edmonton’s Saville Sports Centre, scored three in the first and deuces in the fourth and sixth ends en route to a commanding win, with third Blake MacDonald curling 95 per cent, second Carter Rycroft at 89 and lead Nolan Thiessen at 94.

“It’s kind of neat, but at the same time it’s a little bittersweet, right?” said Kevin. “You’re always pulling for him, and you know one of us has to lose out there. It’s unfortunate that way, but I’m glad I had the chance to play him once at the Brier.”

The Koe brothers grew up north of the 60th parallel, living in cities such as Yellowknife and Inuvik.

“The whole North is proud of these two boys and their advancement in the game,” their father Fred Koe told TSN on Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, Manitoba defeated host Nova Scotia on Thursday morning in a game it had to win. Stoughton’s Winnipeggers from the Charleswood Curling Club had endured a disastrous day on Wednesday, with losses to Ontario and Newfoundland that left their playoff future in serious doubt.

As it stood Thursday morning, the ‘Tobans needed to defeat Saskatchewan (4-5) in the afternoon, and have Quebec upset Newfoundland on Thursday night, to have any hope of even a tiebreaker.

“It’s too bad it’s not in our own hands,” said Stoughton, whose rink includes third Kevin Park, second Rob Fowler, and lead Steve Gould. “That’s all we can hope for.

“Nothing was going right (Wednesday). We couldn’t put any shots back-to-back-to-back. And those are the results you’re going to get at this level. Hopefully, we’ll take care of our business, and then we can start watching the other sheet.”

Thursday afternoon’s Draw 16, slated for 3 p.m. AT, also features Ontario vs. the Territories and New Brunswick (3-7) vs. Prince Edward Island (1-8).