Stoughton, Gushue, McEwen and Simmons advance

Pat Simmons knows all about picked rocks. And losing on last-rock ‘picks’. He had eventual champion Kevin Martin of Edmonton beaten in the Page One-Two playoff at the 2008 Tim Hortons Brier in Winnipeg and watched his last rock curl awry when contacting a fudge spot in the ice or foreign object. On Tuesday night at the CN Centre, the shoe was on the other foot for Simmons, of Davidson, SK. He was the recipient when Wayne Middaugh’s final draw shot, aimed at forcing an extra end, picked in the rings and left Simmons with the theft of two and a 9-6 victory. The win moved Simmons within two A qualifying games of a trip to Edmonton next month for the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings. Joining him in that bracket were Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen of Winnipeg and defending Olympic gold medallist Brad Gushue of St. John’s. Middaugh, of Toronto, got off to an early 4-1 lead after four but Simmons tied it with a deuce in the fifth and a theft in the sixth. After another exchange of deuces, Simmons stole the ninth and had Middaugh looking at two when he went down for the draw. “His last one picked,” admitted Simmons. “It looked good. It was just unfortunate. “After we had it like we had it (at the Brier), I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.  It’s part of the game but it’s tough being on skip’s stones, especially on the last rock of the game. It’s hard to recover from that.” It was the second win of the day for Simmons. Gushue had his hands full in his opener against Greg McAulay of Richmond, the 2000 world champ. McAulay cracked fourth-end three for a two-point edge but Gushue came right back with a tying deuce and stole another two ends later when McAulay had one his few misses on the night. “He never gives up, he just keeps grinding away,” said Gushue following his 8-5 win. “That’s the kind of a player he is. We tried to keep the pressure on him and he made some good shots. The only real shot he missed was in the seventh.” Stoughton was embroiled in a tight fit, leading 2-1 in the eighth when Jim Cotter, throwing last rocks for Bob Ursel’s Kelowna outfit, overcurled on a last-rock draw to the pot and yielded five big ones for a 7-1 duke. “They had a nice end set up and we made a nice . . . ah . . . double-raise double, so that got us out of the end,” Stoughton said. The shot was a crowd-raiser. “It would have been a battle right to end if he had got his one. We’ve just got to get this done and get to the next level.” McEwen also posted a runaway, 8-2 over fellow Winnipegger Kerry Burtnyk. A four in the fourth for a 6-1 lead tore that issue. “Our record hasn’t been the best against Kerry,” said McEwen. “He’s had the upper hand on us. So I was hoping we’d get a quick start because we’re normally not a team that starts real fast in a competition. But we played really well in the first half and Kerry’s team was just a little off. It’s pretty easy to get in trouble when the ice is curling that much. You miss a couple and you’re in deep sometimes. I think we’re neck and neck with everybody here. There are only two teams in my mind that are above anybody else. And that’s self-explanatory, right?” Play resumes Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. with four B-qualifying openers on the women’s side. Combatants will be Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay and Heather Rankin of Calgary, Eve Belisle of Montreal and Amber Holland of Kronau, SK, Cathy King of Edmonton and Michelle Englot of Regina, Marie-France Larouche of St-Romuald, QC, and Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater, ON.