Saskatchewan has super start to Championship Pool play at Tim Hortons Brier

REGINA – The pro-Saskatchewan crowd at the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic, has been anxious to cheer anything positive for its home-province team.

Well, the squad skipped by Steve Laycock gave the fans a couple of huge reasons to erupt in beating Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher (Edmonton) 8-6 in the opening draw of the Championship Pool Thursday. The victory improves Saskatchewan’s record to 5-3 while dropping Alberta to 6-2.

“It sets the tone for the second half of the week for us. We need that win, we need every win going forward, so to start like that was good,” said Laycock. “They’ve knocked off Team Canada and Team Wild Card at the end of the round robin and those are the teams we’ve got coming up. Hopefully we’ll do the same.”

The cheer at the end for the win was only outdone by the noise explosion following the in-off shot for three in the eighth end by Matt Dunstone, the 22-year-old fourth-rock shooter that gave Saskatchewan an 8-5 lead (CLICK HERE to see the shot).

“Matt made a huge shot in eight. That in-off to get the three was just monstrously huge,” said Laycock, whose Saskatoon-based squad also includes second Kirk Muyres, lead Dallan Muyres, alternate Lyle Muyres and coach Pat Simmons. “He played great and made the ones he had to. Those big shots, he’s a good guy to throw them.

“The eruption we got after we made the shot in eight was fun to be part of.”

Three teams sit atop the Championship Pool standings at 7-1 after wins Thursday, including defending world champion Team Canada, skipped by Brad Gushue (St. John’s), who downed Reid Carruthers of Manitoba (West St. Paul) 7-2.

“This whole championship round is going to be tough games,” said Gushue, who plays with third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker, alternate Tom Sallows and coach Jules Owchar.

Brad Gushue and Team Canada opened the Championship Pool with a victory on Thursday. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Gushue said that along with the importance of putting a W in the win column for his team was putting up an L for a top team like Manitoba (5-3).

“It’s that way for every game we play from this point. Tonight when we play (Saskatchewan), that’s one other team we can put a couple of games behind us. Now Reid’s got three losses, plus we’ve beaten him so really we’re three games ahead of him.

“That eliminates teams in the pecking order that can get us in that 1-2 game, so yeah it is important to win those games. To have those two cracks to get into the final is real important.”

The top four teams in the eight-team Championship Pool will advance to the Page playoffs on Saturday, with spots in the 1-2 game the most coveted — the winner will go straight to Sunday’s gold-medal game while the loser plays in the semifinal.

Brad Jacobs, the 2014 Olympic gold medallist, kept his Northern Ontario (Sault Ste. Marie) team in the running at 7-1 by defeating Jamie Murphy of Nova Scotia (Halifax) 6-4. At 4-4 it will be an immense challenge for Nova Scotia to be able to play on the weekend.

“The way the Championship Pool is every game is important. It’s good to have momentum going forward,” said Jacobs. “At first when we got out there today I looked around and said, ‘Here we go. This is where all the fun and entertainment is really going to start.’ I’m just really pleased to have an opportunity to play for this championship.”

Also at 7-1 is Ontario’s John Epping from Toronto, who won his seventh consecutive game 8-7 over Team Wild Card (Winnipeg). Epping got the win when Wild Card skip Mike McEwen was heavy on his final shot in the 10th end, a draw to the four-foot, allowing Ontario to steal two.

“I never expected that. Mike played great all game, and great feel and touch,” said Epping. “We need a couple of breaks. You don’t generally see skips miss the four-foot draws, and when they do you hope you’re the team they miss them against and we were lucky that’s what happened.”

The loss dropped Team Wild Card to 5-3, in a three-way tie for fifth with Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

“Our goal was 8-3, and we’re one win away from having that as our worst record,” said Epping.

The 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic, continues with a draw tonight 7 p.m. (all times CST).

Live scoring, standings and statistics for the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier are available at www.curling.ca/scoreboard/

TSN and RDS2 (streamed on ESPN3 in the United States) will provide complete coverage of the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier. Go to www.tsn.ca/2017-18-curling-broadcast-schedule-1.593081 for the complete schedule.

For ticket information for the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, go to www.curling.ca/2018brier/tickets/

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