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Three tied for top spot at Tim Hortons Brier

ST. JOHN’S — It took skips’ last rocks – one successful and one not — to decide games that gave Team Canada and Newfoundland/Labrador victories Thursday that vaulted them to the top of the standings at the Tim Hortons Brier.

Brad Gushue drew the four-foot with his final stone in the 11th end to finally subdue Glenn Howard of Ontario (3-6; Etobicoke) 8-7 and improve Newfoundland/Labrador to 7-2.

Mike McEwen of Manitoba (7-2; Winnipeg), meanwhile, was not successful with an extremely difficult double-raise, double-takeout try with his final rock. That let Kevin Koe and Team Canada (7-2; Calgary) steal two in the 10th for a 6-3 win.

“We knew pretty early it was going to be a junky end,” Koe said of the 10th. “But you never know when there’s that many rocks in play. One shot and you can go from sitting good to death.”

Team Canada lead Ben Hebert, right, and second Brent Laing offer some strategy options. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Koe, third Marc Kennedy, second Brent Laing, lead Ben Hebert, alternate Scott Pfeifer and coach John Dunn went that route when Kennedy drew the button for shot with his second stone.

“Marc’s was the big one, getting though that port and just being shot really changed the end,” said Koe. “That was a huge shot.”

Koe followed with a similar shot that left McEwen no option but the double raise attempt.

Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker and coach Jules Owchar had their hands full with the veteran Howard, who scored two in the 10th to force the extra end.

“I thought we controlled the game,” said Gushue, who had the near capacity crowd sitting nervously before his final stone. “I felt good with draw weight and the guys said it hadn’t changed all game, so I just had to rely on what I’ve been throwing all week.”

The results left Newfoundland and Labrador, Manitoba and Team Canada with 7-2 records. Northern Ontario and Quebec are at 7-3.

Gushue and Koe play tonight in a crucial game for both teams in their bid to make the final four and the playoffs.

Newfoundland/Labrador’s Brad Gushue, left, and Geoff Walker picked up a big win over Ontario on Thursday. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Even though Team Canada will be the enemy and will find the rowdy crowd cheering every Newfoundland/Labrador shot, and potentially Team Canada misses, Kennedy said they’ll be ready.

“We’ll embrace it. It’s fun. The fans are loving it and cheering for their team. We’ve been on the other side of it at the Olympics in Vancouver and the Brier in Edmonton. Hopefully we can walk into the lion’s den and play well.”

Jean-Michel Ménard of Quebec (Lévis) kept his playoff hopes alive with a 9-4 win over Mike Kennedy of New Brunswick (1-9; Fredericton). Jamie Murphy of Nova Scotia (4-6; Halifax) beat Jamie Koe of Northwest Territories (1-9; Yellowknife).

Northern Ontario Brad Jacobs (7-3; Sault Ste. Marie), B.C.’s John Morris (6-4; Vernon-Kelowna), Saskatchewan’s Adam Casey (5-5; Regina) and Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher (3-7, Edmonton) had the afternoon byes.

Tonight’s draw is at 8 p.m. NST.

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.