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Team Canada opens Pioneer Hi-Bred World Men’s Championship with hard-fought win

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty, but Kevin Koe began pursuit of a third world championship Saturday with a 6-5, extra-end win over SooHyuk Kim of South Korea in the opening draw of the 2019 Pioneer Hi-Bred World Men’s Curling Championship, presented by Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning and Plumbing.

Koe, who won the 2010 and 2016 world titles, and his Team Canada foursome had a hard-fought battle against the youthful Koreans, even after scoring three in the second end.

“It was a bit of a grind, but we were always in control, never really in trouble,” Koe said afterwards. “It was a bit of a defensive game. I thought we played solid, we didn’t push the issue, I don’t think we needed to and we were where we wanted to be in the last end with hammer.

South Korea scored singles in the first, fourth and sixth ends and denied Canada’s bid for deuces in the seventh and eighth ends, each time forcing Koe to hit and roll to blank.

But Koe and his Calgary Glencoe Club teammates — third B.J. Neufeld, second Colton Flasch, lead Ben Hebert (who also is seeking a third world title) alternate Ted Appelman, team coach John Dunn and national coach Jeff Stoughton – were forced to take one in the ninth. Kim made a near perfect freeze draw against four Canadian counters and Koe had no choice but to settle for a 5-3 lead going into 10.

Two uncharacteristic misses by Koe – first an angle raise he rarely misses and a tight double takeout where he got just one – opened the door for South Korea to draw for two and force the extra end. Team Canada kept the extra end clean and Koe had a routine hit and stick for the win in his first game in Canada as Team Canada skip.

“Awesome,” he said of the experience. “It doesn’t get any better. Walking out for the opening ceremonies and this game, a great feeling and we’ll hopefully embrace it all week.”

Flasch was playing his first game in a world championship and admitted it was a different experience.

“Got little nerves off the start, the big crowd, everybody is cheering for you,” he said. “But once we got into the game it was just another game. It wasn’t too complicated, good to see a bunch of different shots and that’ll be good moving forward.”

In other first-draw games, Bruce Mouat of Scotland stole one in the seventh end and two in the eighth to beat Sergey Glukhov of Russia 6-2, Yuta Matsumura of Japan scored three in the ninth to beat Joel Retornaz of Italy 6-4, and Jaap van Dorp of the Netherlands scored a deuce in 10 to upset reigning Olympic champion John Shuster of the United States 6-5.

Scottish skip Bruce Mouat directs his teammates during win over Russia. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

“It all started in the second end,” Shuster said of giving up a steal of two that got his team in trouble. “I had to throw a board-weighter there and in a place that I was kind of uncomfortable with. Let go of it and through it was fine and it ran and ended up giving up a steal of two.

“You never want to start off with an opening draw loss, but in the same breath it’s a long week… we know this competition is as tough as ever, so we have to tighter it up ad get off to a better start next game.”

The 2019 Pioneer Hi-Bred World Men’s Curling Championship continues with Saturday night’s draw at 7 p.m. MT.

Live scoring, standings and statistics for the 2019 Pioneer Hi-Bred World Men’s Curling Championship are available at wmcc2019.worldcurling.org/

TSN and RDS2 will provide complete coverage of the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier. CLICK HERE for the complete schedule.

For ticket information for the 2019 Pioneer Hi-Bred World Men’s Curling Championship, go to www.curling.ca/2019worldmen/tickets/

This story will be available in French as soon as possible at www.curling.ca/2019worldmen/?lang=fr