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Team Gushue opens Tim Hortons Brier with emotion-filled victory

ST. JOHN’S – Brad Gushue’s bid to bring the Tim Hortons Brier title back to Newfoundland and Labrador began on a successful note Saturday.

With a packed house in Mile One Centre cheering at every opportunity, the Newfoundland/Labrador skip took advantage of a costly miss by Alberta skip Brendan Bottcher to score three in the eighth end en route to an 8-6 victory in the first draw of the 2017 Brier.

“It was awesome, a lot of fun,” Gushue said after sending the sold-out crowd home happy. “The opening ceremonies were a little bit emotional, especially when I saw Jack (MacDuff, Newfoundland/Labrador’s only Brier champion, 1976) I filled up pretty good.”

1976 champion Jack MacDuff is accompanied into the opening ceremonies by his son James. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Even though this is his 14th Brier, playing at home for the first time was an unexpectedly nervous venture for Gushue.

“The Hot Shots (earlier in the day) helped me. The first round of hot shots I was just focused on staying on my feet because I was so nervous. It really helped going into this game. The first end, getting through that was key.”

His first shots, he said, were especially difficult because “the adrenalin was pumping, there was emotion there, the legs were shaking, the hands were shaking. After that it felt a whole lot better.”

It wasn’t an easy win, and there were moments of nervous rumblings in the stands, but Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker and coach Jules Owchar prevailed over a stubborn rookie Alberta team.

Gushue had scored doubles in the second and fourth ends for a 4-2 lead. But Bottcher made a pressure draw against four Newfoundland stones for a single in the fifth and another perfectly thrown draw to the button for two in the seventh to tie the game 5-5.

Just as the crowd drew quiet, Gushue brought them back to their feet with a finely executed double raise takeout to sit two. When Bottcher rubbed a guard with his try for a freeze, that left Gushue a routine draw for three

“See how I threw it? Ohm man that was a terrible throw,” he said laughingly of his shot. “That was really throwing 100 rocks a day for 20 years, figuring out how to get that back on line. As I came down, Mark said there’s no pictures on the scorecard. It wasn’t my best rock of the day but certainly the best result.

Nova Scotia skip Jamie Murphy celebrates his victory on Saturday. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

“If I run that back and pick up the top one (the guard) he’s probably stealing 90 per cent of the time and when you steal in the eighth to go up one, the odds of winning are heavily in his favour. So that was a huge shot, probably game winner.”

In other first-draw games, Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario (Sault Ste. Marie) scored triples in the third and fifth ends and stole two in the eighth to beat John Morris of British Columbia (Vernon/Kelowna) 9-7 and Mike McEwen of Manitoba (Winnipeg) nipped Adam Casey of Saskatchewan (Regina) 6-5.

In the pre-qualifying final, Jamie Murphy of Nova Scotia (Halifax) scored three in the third end and stole three more in the seventh to beat Craig Kochan of Yukon (Whitehorse) 9-6 and earn a berth in the main round-robin.

Today’s second draw goes at 8 p.m. NST with defending champion Kevin Koe and his Team Canada foursome taking on Jean-Michel Ménard of Quebec in the featured game.

For ticket and other event information, http://www.curling.ca/2017brier/

For the complete schedule, go to http://www.curling.ca/2017brier/draw/

This story will be posted in French as soon as possible at http://www.curling.ca/2017brier/?lang=fr

TSN (RDS2 in French), the exclusive television network for Curling Canada’s Season of Champions, will provide complete coverage of the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier.