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Team Canada off to terrific start at Tim Hortons Brier

REGINA – In its first appearance as Team Canada, Brad Gushue’s team from St. John’s showed why it is the defending world champion.

What also showed was the lack of weight on the players’ shoulders compared to a year ago. That’s when they had all the pressure of being the home team at the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier in St. John’s.

Gushue – backed by third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker, alternate Tom Sallows and coach Jules Owchar – dominated from start to finish Saturday night to down Sean Geall of British Columbia (Kelowna) 10-2 in Pool A opening draw play at the 16-team 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic.

“A lot less stressful,” said Gushue with a chuckle when asked to compare the pressure of their opening games at the two Tim Hortons Briers. “There’s not much I’m going to do in my curling career that’s going to match the pressure we felt last year, and the pressure we put on ourselves. Everything else pales in comparison.

“We just enjoyed being out there today. This year has been a bit different with two Olympic trials (men’s and mixed doubles) and kind of a grind. We’re just trying to enjoy this week. Obviously as the week goes on and you get into some big games you’re going to tighten the screws and the games are going to get a little bit more intense, but we’re really just trying to enjoy being Team Canada out there.”

Newfoundland/Labrador’s Greg Smith was a crowd-pleaser on Saturday, despite losing his opener. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

B.C., meanwhile, was a bit distracted. Lead David Harper was replaced by alternate Brad Wood after the fourth end when Harper had to leave to be with his wife who was in labour with their first child back home to Kelowna. Third Jeff Richard’s wife is due to give birth to their second child late next week.

“He was supposed to be out on the plane this afternoon and it got cancelled,” said Geall. “We’re going to cross our fingers to hear that he made it home in time tonight.

“We thought we’d start out there with him because he deserved that, he was part of our team all year, and send him on his way when we could.”

Needless to say, Richard’s wife has been requested to hold off until at least Harper returns.

“Jeff tells her daily. At least for 48 hours now, depending when Dave’s wife decides it’s time,” said Geall.

Gushue said he knows from experience it’s tough to play when a player’s wife is expecting.

“They had a tough situation to face,” said Gushue. “They’ve got much bigger things going on in their lives. A bit of a tough situation for Sean and the other guys too because obviously you want to make sure they’re doing the best thing for them in their personal life, but they also want to curl too.”

On the sheet next to him was Team Newfoundland/Labrador, skipped by Greg Smith. The energetic 21-year-old, who has been watching Gushue play since before he was 10 years old, duked it out with 12-time Brier participant Jamie Koe of Northwest Territories (Yellowknife) in a wild game. After taking a 7-4 lead with four in the fifth end, Smith struggled from there, losing 9-7.

Team Wild Card, skipped by Mike McEwen (Winnipeg), rode a first-end three to down the Yukon’s Thomas Scoffin (Whitehorse) 5-3.

In the other game, Jamie Murphy of Nova Scotia (Halifax) pulled off a minor upset by defeating Alberta (Edmonton) skipped by Brendan Bottcher, 7-6 in an extra end.

The 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic, continues with draws Sunday at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 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