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Curlers face off Sunday in Players' Championship final

Glenn Howard will face Mike McEwen in the Players' Championship final on April 21, 2013. SPORTSNET/Anil Mungal

It was a great night for four-time Canadian and world curling champion Glenn Howard on Saturday.

Howard advanced to the final of the men’s $100,000 Players’ Championship at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the place once known as Maple Leaf Gardens where his beloved hockey team once played. Combined with the Leafs clinching a playoff spot on Saturday night, Howard was in heaven.

“It’s surreal for me just to be playing here,” the Coldwater, Ont., skip said after downing reigning Canadian men’s curling champion Brad Jacobs 6-3 in one of two semifinals.

“The history that has been in this building is unbelievable, and for the Leafs to clinch a spot for the playoffs (for the first time since 2004), it’s really cool. It’s pretty special and probably one of those nights I’m going to remember for a long time.”

Howard will face Mike McEwen, who beat fellow Winnipeger Jeff Stoughton 5-2 in the other semifinal, at 1 p.m.

“It’s going to be a barnburner,” Howard said. “They’re playing really well.”

Howard beat McEwen in the round-robin portion of the Players earlier this week.

Howard won the tournament in 2008 and made it to the final last year for the second time in four years. He is shooting for his 12th Grand Slam win as a skip.

McEwen is aiming for his fourth Grand Slam win and his first at the Players’ Championship. McEwen beat Howard in the final of the 2011 Canadian Open.

Howard will be looking to win his second Slam of the season after winning the Canadian Open in December.

The winning team will collect a $50,000 bonus put up by Sportsnet for the most points in the four men’s Grand Slam events. The second-place team will collect $30,000 and the third-place team $20,000.

Calgary’s Kevin Koe had a chance at a $1-million bonus offered by Sportsnet at the start of the Slams in November when his team won the Rogers’ Masters. His team needed to sweep the four Slams for the bonus but that ended with the Canadian Open.

“It’s massive,” Howard added of the money ramifications. “Hopefully we come out of this year with a chunk of coin. We really want the Players’ Championship. You’ve got 15 of the best teams in the world. If you can beat all of them you’ve done a pretty good job. It means a heck of a lot to win this tournament.”

The women’s final will feature a repeat of this year’s world championship game in Latvia between Scotland’s Eve Muirhead, who won, and Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson.

Muirhead scored a 6-5, extra-end win over Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton in her semifinal. Lawton came up inches short trying to raise her stone in the eight-foot to the button facing two counters in the four-foot. Sigfridsson beat Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones 8-4 in the other semi.

Watch the Players’ Championship women’s final on Sunday at 9 a.m. on Sportsnet.

Earlier on Saturday, Ottawa’s Rachel Homan, who won the national women’s curling championship in Kingston and placed third in the worlds, lost out in the quarter-finals.

She came into the Players’ with a chance at a $100,000 bonus if her team won the tournament after notching the Rogers’ Masters, the penultimate women’s Grand Slam event. The top women’s team in terms of points from the two tournaments will collect a $15,000 bonus, the runner-up $7,500 and the third-place team $2,500.

JACOBS’ SEASON TO REMEMBER

Brad Jacobs’ loss prevented his squad from wrapping up a berth in the Canadian Curling Trials in Winnipeg this December. His team needed to advance to Sunday’s final to clinch a spot.

Toronto’s John Epping claimed the berth because it had more points this season on the World Curling Tour. However, there is a final qualifying tournament in Kitchener in November in which two additional men’s and women’s teams can solidify a spot in the Trials.

Jacobs’ team has had a season to remember. The foursome emerged as a top squad in Canada with a bright future. Now they finally have a chance to sit back and reflect on what they’ve done.

“It just feels like non-stop curling – appearances, people, fans and media. It’s been crazy,” Jacobs said in between the quarter-finals and the semis. “But this is what we’ve wanted since we were kids. It’s a good problem to have. We’re proud of everything we’ve accomplished.

“It’s very new to us. We’re learning throughout this whole process what it’s like to have quite a bit of notoriety compared to what we used to have, but it’s different. You do have to adjust and you have to try to be as genuine as you can because now there are a lot more fans from what we’re used to. You’ve got to make time from them as well. You’ve got to be able to balance the curling with the fans and the autographs and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of that so far.”

“We’re always going to name our team for the sponsor,” Jacobs said in reference to why his squad calls itself Team Easy Express instead of Team Jacobs (at least in terms of how it refers to itself on the World Curling Tour). “I think that’s the way that it should. Our title sponsor is going to be our team name. I really don’t care to have my last name as the team name.”

This article first appeared on Sportsnet.ca.