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Team Canada goes back-to-back at the Tim Hortons Brier

REGINA – Brad Gushue joined some legendary curling company by pulling off back-to-back Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic, titles.

Gushue’s Team Canada defeated Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher (Edmonton) 6-4 Sunday evening to defend the emotional first-time title Gushue, vice-skip Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker, alternate Tom Sallows and coach Jules Owchar won in their hometown of St. John’s a year ago.

“I’ve seen the list (of back-to-back winning skips) up on the Jumbotron with Ernie Richardson and Kevin Martin. That’s pretty crazy names, so to be on that list and have our team there back-to-back, that’s really cool. That’s something I’m pretty proud of,” said Gushue.

He did it by calmly delivering a draw to the button with his final shot to win the Tim Hortons Brier Brier, the aspiration of every Canadian male curler.

“That’s awesome. That’s what you dream about. To make it is even better, especially since I only had to draw the eight-foot last year. It felt real good on the throw,” said Gushue, named the Hec Gervais award winner as the Tim Hortons Brier’s most valuable player.

Brad Gushue celebrates his Tim Hortons Brier victory on Sunday. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Calling the line on the decisive shot was his long-time friend, his business partner and third.

“That was unbelievable,” said  Nichols. “You know, it didn’t really hit me until it was coming into the top 12 that it was for the win and all that stuff. He played so good this week. It was almost like there was no doubt in my mind he was going to make it.”

When the rock settled on the button, Gushue gave a fist pump of satisfaction, and a minute or so later he was hugging his two daughters and wife. The ending lacked the drama and emotion of a year ago, but the clinical dissection of the opponent netted the same result.

“Obviously last year we had never won one of these before,” said Nichols. “This year, defending champs, obviously, we wanted to perform well and defend our title, but it certainly freed us up to play a little more relaxed and loose and try and enjoy the moment of having the Maple Leaf on our back.”

Gushue said the team’s command of the game was indicative of its play all week.

“I thought we took control of it early, kept control of the hammer, made sure we had hammer coming home,” said Gushue. “Brendan has a nice team. You’ve got to give them credit. They didn’t stop pushing, and forced us to draw the button. It was a credit to him. He’s going to have many cracks at this. He’s a good player and has a good head on his shoulders.”

It’s not that the Albertans played poorly; they were scored 88 per cent, with Bottcher himself at 93 per cent. But the Gushue gang was better at 91 per cent, including Gushue’s 96 — following a perfect 100 per cent game in the Page 1-2 playoff win over Ontario’s John Epping on Saturday night.

Alberta skip Brendan Bottcher directs sweepers Brad Thiessen, left, and Karrick Martin. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

“This is a great week for us, it was just amazing. And to see Brad draw the button was a success for us. Hats off to them, it was perfect,” said the 26-year-old Bottcher, who was backed by third Darren Moulding, second Brad Thiessen and lead Karrick Martin (Kevin’s son).

“This whole week has just been outstanding. I just want to get back and hopefully have a few more cracks at it.”

Team Canada had the best round-robin record at 10-1. They only team Gushue didn’t beat was Alberta, a 10-7 loss Wednesday.

Gushue has three losses in his last 26 games at the Tim Hortons Brier. In his 15 appearances, he has more wins than any skip in Brier history with 123. Earlier in the event he surpassed Russ Howard and Martin, who were tied at 113.

Alberta advanced to the final by defeating Ontario (Toronto), skipped by John Epping, 6-4 in the semifinal earlier Sunday.

Team Canada receives $62,000 in prize money, and will represent Canada at the 2018 World Men’s Championship in Las Vegas, March 31 to April 8. They’ll be looking to defend their title which they won in Edmonton last year by going 13-0.

“That’s going to be awesome. I cannot wait. I got to play in Vegas with Jeff (Stoughton) at the Continental Cup, the first time I was there, and it was such a great event., I expect nothing less. We’re going to wear the maple leaf with pride again and hope to defend our world championship,” said Nichols.

“As long as we stay within ourselves and get in that groove we’ve been in the last few major events, I like our chances to get into our playoffs. Then once you get into the playoffs anything can happen against top teams in the world.”

If the team reaches the podium in Vegas it will be invited to participate at the 2019 World Financial Group Continental Cup as part of Team North America. Victory also means becoming Team Canada at the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier in Brandon, Man.

As the runner-up, Alberta goes home with $52,000, third-place finisher Ontario earned $42,000 while Northern Ontario received $32,000 in prize money for finishing fourth.

This story will be available in French as soon as possible at www.curling.ca/2018brier/?lang=fr