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Past champions Jacobs and Jones book spots in Olympic curling trials finals

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SASKATOON — It’s hard to imagine Brad Jacobs playing much better than he has already throughout these Canadian Olympic curling trials, but he still may need to dig deep for something more in Sunday’s final against long-time rival Brad Gushue.

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“It’s going to take a near perfect performance,” Jacobs said Saturday after his team crushed 2018 Olympian Kevin Koe 8-3 in the men’s semifinal at SaskTel Centre.

Jacobs has been close to perfect for the last week, curling 92% in the round robin and matching that number in the semifinal.

While his teammates, Marc Kennedy, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden, were simply outstanding in their own right, Jacobs was a stone-cold killer, making doubles with his last rock in both the third and fifth ends to score four-enders and prompting Koe to concede after only six ends.

“I don’t know if there’s one word to capture how Brad is playing, but I would say it’s phenomenal,” E.J. Harnden said. “Brad’s been pretty much perfect. He’s made phenomenal shots all week long.”

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Jacobs, from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., will face Gushue, of St. John’s, N.L. on Sunday in a final featuring two of the top three teams in the world rankings. Jacobs is No. 1 and Gushue is No. 3, behind Bruce Mouat of Scotland.

The all-Manitoba women’s final will feature Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, against Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg, who won a gold medal at the Olympics in 2014.

Jones beat Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., 8-3 in the women’s semifinal on Saturday night. Fleury went 8-0 in the round-robin and earned a direct berth in the final, while Jones went 5-3.

Fleury and her teammates had Saturday off, while four other teams slugged it out to make the final.

“It was a good day,” Fleury said. “We had breakfast with the family and then our team did an escape room, which was a good distraction.

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“We wanted to make sure we stayed busy and we did a good job of that. We feel comfortable, we feel like we’ll be well-rested, which is an advantage and it was nice to get on the ice and throw some practice rocks.”

On the men’s side, it’s a matchup of two skips who already have Olympic gold medals — Gushue won in 2006 and Jacobs in 2014 — and two teams that have battled more than 50 times in their long and storied careers. Gushue has a 29-27 advantage in head-to-head matchups.

“It’s two great teams,” said Kennedy, who is looking to play in the Olympics for the third time, after doing so in 2010 with Kevin Martin and 2018 with Koe.

“Men’s curling in Canada is at a level I haven’t ever seen before because we’ve all pushed each other to get so good. I’m sure it’s going to just be a great game and whoever ends up winning is going to be a great representative for Canada.”

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Both Gushue and Jacobs went 7-1 in the round robin, but Gushue got first place based on a 7-6 win in their head-to-head matchup.

Someone is going to get to live the Olympic dream for a second time and all signs suggest this will be a barnburner of a final.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and now we’ve gotten to do it more than once,” Jacobs said. “And it’s pretty cool.”

Gushue predicted that whichever team wins on Sunday will have four players curling over 90%. There will be little room for error against such a great opponent.

“It is a good rivalry and we’ve had some great games over the years,” said Gushue, who curls with Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker.

“There’s a mutual respect between the two teams. We’re drastically different in how we’re made up and our demeanour but both are incredibly good teams.”

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Gushue’s first Olympic trials final was in 2005 in Halifax when he was 25 years old and not all that ready for such a big moment.

So what’s most noticeably different about this time around, compared to last?

“I’ve been able to eat, I’ve been able to sleep, I don’t feel like I’m gonna have a heart attack,” Gushue said. “A lot of things are different.

“I feel really good. I feel as chill as you can be at this moment and it’s actually comical for me to look back at the way I was 16 years ago, to the way I am now. It’s just age, experience, perspective. I was an absolute mess 16 years ago.”

Things did not work out well this time around for Koe, whose team went 6-2 in the round robin but simply didn’t have it when the playoffs rolled around.

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“It came to a quick thud out there and it sucks,” Koe said. “I thought we definitely were good enough to get it done.

“I thought we were ready to play, just unfortunately we strung together a few misses in a row and got in trouble. They made us pay.”

John Morris, a two-time Olympian who joined the foursome as the second to help it get on the podium in Beijing, after Koe finished fourth in Pyeonchang, was disappointed, but had to tip his cap to Team Jacobs.

“Kudos to them, they outplayed us,” Morris said. “I think it will be a great final and it looks like we’re going to have a great rep for the Olympics regardless of who wins that final.

“That’s the best I’ve seen the Brad Jacobs team in a couple years. They’ve got that look in their eye that they’re real hard to beat. I didn’t see Brad Gushue miss a shot this week and I sure didn’t see Brad Jacobs miss a shot against us.”

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McCarville had a good run, going 4-4 in the round robin and eliminating two-time defending Canadian champion Kerri Einarson, of Gimli, Man., in a tie-breaker Saturday afternoon. McCarville won 4-3 in an extra end after Einarson was heavy with a draw that would have given her the winning point in the 10 th .

“It’s not what we wanted but we were grateful to have this opportunity to be here,” said a downcast Einarson, who beat Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., 8-6 in an earlier tie-breaker Saturday.

“We gave it our all this week. It’s been an amazing journey with this team. The four of us have battled the entire time. We’re very disappointed but that’s how it goes sometimes.”

McCarville and her teammates were ready to pack up and go home on Friday after falling to 4-4. But a series of events happened that brought them into the tie-breaker and kept their Olympic dream alive.

“We may or may not have packed some of our stuff already,” McCarville’s third, Kendra Lilly, said. “This was such a pleasant surprise. We went out and played well.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

SATURDAY RESULTS

WOMEN

Tiebreaker 1

Einarson 8, Scheidegger 6

Tiebreaker 2

McCarville 4, Einarson 3

Semifinal

Jones 8, McCarville 3

SUNDAY GAME

Final

Fleury vs. Jones, noon ET

MEN

SATURDAY RESULTS

Semifinal

Jacobs 8, Koe 3

SUNDAY GAME

Final

Gushue vs. Jacobs, 8 p.m. ET

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