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Team Canada rallies to win Tim Hortons Brier semifinal

Kevin Koe and Team Canada fought their way back from a 5-2 deficit to steal one in an extra end to defeat Mike McEwen of Manitoba 7-6 in the semifinal of the Tim Hortons Brier Saturday evening

Koe and his Calgary team of vice-skip Marc Kennedy, second Brent Laing, lead Ben Hebert, alternate Scott Pfeifer and coach John Dunn move on to play Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador (St. John’s) in Sunday’s 8 p.m. championship game — a rematch of the gold-medal game last year in Ottawa, won by Koe’s then-Alberta team.

Gushue, searching for his first Tim Hortons Brier title, earned his second straight trip to the final by beating McEwen 7-5 in Friday’s Page 1-2 playoff game.

Manitoba skip Mike McEwen didn’t get the result he wanted on Saturday night. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

McEwen and his Winnipeg teammates — third B.J. Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak, lead Denni Neufeld and coach Chris Neufeld — drop into Sunday’s bronze-medal game against Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario (Sault Ste. Marie) at 3 p.m. NST.

Koe, Tim Hortons Brier champion in 2010 and 2014 with different teams and again last year with his current teammates, drew to freeze to McEwen’s stone that was biting the back of the button with his final stone in the extra end. That forced McEwen to try a double runback that proved unsuccessful.

“I guess we tried to do too much,” a dejected McEwen said of the 11th end. “We had a rock roll to just a horrendous place (earlier in the end; it would be the rock that Koe froze to) and that was our undoing. That was an awful break for us, where that rolled to.”

McEwen’s first delivery stopped at the top of the four-foot, leaving barely enough room for Koe to get to shot. But the veteran skip did just that.

“We thought he might draw and if he’s makes a good one it’s game over,” said Koe. “But if he gets a little bit of a miss that was our only chance for the win. I made a good one with my last one and the guys swept it great.

Koe and his team were in trouble from the fourth end on but refused to give up.

“I just had a couple of bad misses, two in one end, a big three-ball (for Manitoba in the fourth end),” said Koe. “But we hung in there, made some huge shots. We could have probably missed 10 shots in that game and if we miss one of them we lose. But we made some huge shots coming home.”

Canada drew first blood in the third, stealing one when Koe buried his shot in the back eight-foot behind cover and McEwen was heavy with his draw attempt.

But Manitoba regained the upper hand in the fourth when Koe uncharacteristically missed two straight shots. He was heavy with a tapback, moving Manitoba into shot position, and then slid between two McEwen counters with a raise-double try. McEwen had an easy draw for three.

Back-to-back doubles by B.J. Neufeld and McEwen, followed by a perfect runback by the skip forced Canada to take one in the fifth, leaving Manitoba up one with the hammer at the break.

Leigh Buttery, right, accepts the Paul McLean Award from his TSN colleague Bryan Mudryk. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

McEwen and teammates continued to outplay Team Canada in the sixth, getting rocks into better position early in the end and having McEwen make the key shots that led to a deuce. They gave up one in seven but regained the all-important hammer.

McEwen went for the throat in eight, trying for a double that had the possibility of Manitoba scoring three. But he was narrow, getting only one and leaving Koe to steal a single.

“I was feeling pretty good about the shot,” said McEwen. “I hadn’t thrown a lot of draws since the second end so I was feeling my odds of making that were just as good as making the draw. A double and it’s over.”

Team Canada will take on Team Newfoundland/Labrador in what promises to be a crazed atmosphere in St. John’s Sunday.

“That’s OK,” said Koe. “A couple of years ago we were in (Kamloops) B.C. and we played B.C. in the final in front of a full house (in the 2014 Tim Hortons Brier final). Obviously it’ll be another level tomorrow it’ll be way louder but we’re a pretty experienced team and we had a good game with Brad Thursday night so we’ll be ready.”

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.