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North America claims World Financial Group Continental Cup

In the end, it was the cakewalk that appeared to be developing from the start.

Team North America didn’t let down Saturday night at Servus Credit Union Place, erupting in the late going for a sweep of three 30-point skins at the World Financial Group Continental Cup, presented by Monsanto.

With the pendulum seeming to slowly swing in Team World’s favour, the home side managed to steal an amazing 40 points on the final ends of three matches which more than catapulted it beyond the point of no return and into the winner’s bracket for the fourth time.

Canadian champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg, who had been blanked for seven ends, stole a 22-point skin in the last end against Mirjam Ott’s Swiss team from Davos. Kevin Koe’s Edmonton unit stole nine points to subdue Niklas Edin of Sweden and John Morris, skipping a North American mixed skins entry, out-drew David Murdoch of Scotland to the button on a final-end carryover to steal yet another go-ahead nine-point skin.

In the end, it was Jones (Kaitlyn Lawes, Jill Officer, Dawn Askin) 22-8 over Ott, Koe (Blake MacDonald, Carter Rycroft, Nolan Thiessen) 21-9 over Edin and Morris (Ann Swisshelm, Marc Kennedy, Nina Spatola) 19-11 over Murdoch.

Heading into today’s final 55-point skins tests, the Amerks hold a 217-73 lead, a spread of 16 points more than necessary to clinch the Cup victory.

“Of course we didn’t expect this,” admitted Team North America coach Rick Lang of Thunder Bay afterward. “But, you know, it started early. We just set the tone the very first day when we dominated, got some confidence and picked up a roll. After that the only pressure was to attend to our own team and continue the good play.”

Marc Kennedy at the 2011 Continental Cup

From Thursday’s very first group of endeavours that led to a 42-12 lead, the 24-player Amerk squad never was really tested until Saturday when Team World players exhibited some improvement and showed signs of prolonging the issue heading into the final exchanges.

“It was some tough last minutes for us,” admitted World coach Peja Lindholm of Sweden. “It was devastating for us. They were a lot better than us, we just have to accept that. We just didn’t perform as well as I know we can.

“When we are on the top level of our games we play really well, but there were too many errors here.

“Our goal was to keep the Cup alive until the last game (Sunday) but we couldn’t do that so it is tough. I haven’t had time to tell the team yet — but the new goal is to win the last day!”

The victory erased a coaching defeat for Lang at the 2003 event in his home city.

“We gave that one away and it wasn’t very much fun. So it’s good to get one back,” he allowed. “It’s too bad in the sense that it’s a premature ending, but on the other hand it got really exciting in the last couple of ends tonight with everything going down to the last rocks like that so I thought it was fantastic.”

Added rookie team captain Neil Harrison of Newmarket, ON. “It was fun and something you’re not going to experience very often so once was great,” he said.

“I don’t think there was anything we inspired in them (the players), we just tried not to give them any more reason to be nervous than they had to be. They’re all experienced players and it was certainly their doing, not ours.”

Ott missed both her shots in the final end against Jones who essentially played a clean house and forced her foe to play a precise last draw to a corner of the button for the win.

“We made some good shots in that last end and both teams were rushed for time but it just went our way,” assessed Jones, skip of Team Canada in the upcoming Scotties Tournament of Hearts next month.

“We were feeling like we couldn’t get anything going and you don’t like looking at those zeroes on the scoreboard but we got the 22 points at the end. Everybody went out there and did their thing and we are pretty happy we won it tonight.”

Koe trailed 9-6 after six ends but picked up 15 points with skins in the seventh and eighth ends.

“We were a part of this two years ago and lost so it’s nice to come back and contribute to a win.”

As the final end progressed, Koe’s points turned out to be the clinchers.

“It was a close game and I was surprised the way his last one worked out. But it was nice to lock it up because, two years ago, we were brutal.”

Morris and Murdoch waged an intriguing mixed doubles duel with the Scot controlling the issue until the last end when Morris took advantage of the carryover draw to the pot.

Murdoch appeared to have generated winning momentum in the sixth end when he executed a last-rock double-kill that was inches away from producing an eight-ender, unheard of in skins play or any sort of curling at the elite level.

Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard, the 2010 Olympic silver medallist, takes on Bingyu Wang of China today at 11 a.m. in the 55-point women’s finale while Olympic gold-medal finalists Kevin Martin of Edmonton and Thomas Ulsrud of Oslo, Norway, collide in the $13,000 men’s finale at 6 p.m.