John Morris' Kelowna, B.C., rink and Renee Sonnenberg, of Grande Prairie, Alta., were the first two teams to advance to the Roar of the Rings Canadian Curling Trials at the Road to the Roar pre-trials on Saturday.
Morris, along with his squad of Jim Cotter, Tyrel Griffith and Rick Sawatsky, drew to the button in the 10th end to edge Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.'s Brad Jacobs 5-4 to be the first of four teams — two from the men's side and two from the women's — to head to the Olympic trials in Winnipeg. The event runs from Dec. 1 to 8.
Sonnenberg and her team of Lawnie MacDonald, Cary-Anne McTaggart and Rona Pasika, shook off an early defeat at the hands of Kelly Scott and beat the previously undefeated Kelowna foursome 12-4 in the women's A final to advance.
Morris' team went undefeated during the week, but the skip says they didn't play to their potential in the final. He says his foursome played a patient game and didn't want to be too aggressive.
"This game wasn't our best and I don't think it was Jacobs' best," Morris said. "It was a bit of cat and mouse. When the game's that tight, no one really has to push the envelope too much. You just have to manage.
"But we hung tough. That's one of the first major championship big games we've really been in all year. I'm proud of the guys for hanging tough and Jim made some key shots late that really picked us up."
Both teams traded points starting in the second end, with each scratching back from one-point deficits before heading into the final end tied 4-4. Jacobs had two guards protecting his rock in the eight-foot ring, but Cotter, the fourth on Morris' team, slid a shot gently between both rocks for the win.
Jacobs didn't mince words about his team's performance with a chance at the Olympic trials on the line.
"That was, quite frankly, terrible curling and quite embarrassing, some of the shot-making that we had in that last game," said Jacobs, the reigning Brier champion, who quickly stripped out of his curling jacket after the match and headed for the door.
"No one was out there shooting the lights out like I thought we might be. No one went for the jugular. Everyone took their misses out there on both sides, that's why it was 4-4 game. Otherwise, if they would have been on, they probably would have clobbered us."
Jacobs added: "Flat out, if we're going to curl like that, we're not going to come out of this thing. We need to bounce back and come back with a much better performance in our next one."
Despite the loss, Jacobs gets another shot to make the finals tomorrow night when he faces the winner of the morning match between 2006 Olympic gold medallist Brad Gushue and 2003 world junior champion Steve Laycock, of Saskatoon.
"Us losing that game is very typical of our team ... and we've always bounced back," Jacobs said. "I'm really hoping that tomorrow we'll show a lot of resilience and play a lot better."
Morris will go up against former skip Kevin Martin. Despite winning a world championship in 2008 and Olympic gold in 2010 with Martin, Morris had a fiery relationship with his fourth, and left the team after gaining an automatic berth in Winnipeg.
"Is he in that bonspiel?" Morris joked. "I'm sure we'll have a great match against Kev. We'll both be gunning for each other and that was a tough break at the end of last year, but it had to happen. I'm sure we're going to have a barnburner."
Though the men's final had some drama to the last shot, Sonnenberg erased any chance of that in the sixth end with three of her rocks surrounding one of Scott's. She used the hammer to squeeze the stone out of the cluster to score four for a 7-3 lead.
Despite Scott getting one back in the seventh end, Sonnenberg added three in the eighth and two in the ninth before Scott conceded.
Sonnenberg acknowledged that the sixth end started the inevitable end of the match.
"That made a huge difference for our team, but at that point we weren't going to let up one inch. We've seen a million comebacks this week," Sonnenberg said.
She added that in her earlier loss to Scott she wasn't comfortable with the ice and never really got used to it how "swingy" it was. This time, the ice swung her way.
"It may have been an advantage that we played the B final there. We knew what side was a little straighter and the other side swung a whole bunch. But the girls played great and we put our rocks in good position today."
Scott on the other hand, admitted she was baffled by the sheet and her rocks, and was never comfortable during the game.
"We did not enjoy that performance on our behalf," Scott said. "We had moments of looking at what we are doing out there, but there wasn't really one end where we put all eight shots together."
Scott gets a second chance at an Olympic trial spot tomorrow afternoon against Edmonton's Val Sweeting, who staved off elimination by beating 2010 Olympic silver medallist Cheryl Bernard 9-7 Saturday morning.
"We know the Sweeting team is very good," Scott said. "They are a young and up and coming team and (we are) going to have to be sharp tomorrow.
"We bounce (back) pretty good. We said that coming into our game, that regardless of the outcome of tonight's game, let's not let it rattle us. Given the outcome of our performance, I think that's one we just want to park."
Sonnenberg, on the other hand, can't wait to get back out west for the trials.
"I just love curling in Winnipeg," she said.