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Team Canada advances to Tim Hortons Brier Page 1-2 game

REGINA – The stakes will be just as high this weekend as a year ago, but the stress level won’t be for Brad Gushue at the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic.

Gushue’s Team Canada squad clinched a spot in the Page playoff 1-2 game by downing Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario (Sault Ste. Marie) 5-3 Friday afternoon to put the St. John’s squad into a first-place tie with Ontario at 9-1 heading into the final draw of the Championship Pool tonight. The two teams will face off against each other in that draw at the Brandt Centre.

“That’s goal No. 1. I guess, goal No. 2, at this point, is to see if we can get hammer in that game (by winning tonight),” said Gushue. “Obviously the game tonight is going to determine that. I’m pleased with how we performed. It was an odd game. Not a whole lot of offence from two pretty offensive teams. But we were able to come out on top, which is great.”

“Any time we play Brad we always have great games. I can’t remember the last time we really had a lopsided game against him. It always comes down to last rock against him. We knew it would come down to last rock today, and fortunately we had it.”

Gushue and his squad of third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker, alternate Tom Sallows and coach Jules Owchar are feeling a lot looser than they did a year ago when they won the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier in their hometown. That victory also happened to be his first title in 14 tries at the national championship.

“A lot less stressed, a lot less nervous. Eating better. Sleeping better. Everything’s better,” said Gushue.

Northern Ontario (8-2) was playing without lead Ryan Harnden, who has been battling an illness all week and finally went to the hospital Friday. He was replaced by alternate Tanner Horgan, 20, the runner-up at the 2018 New Holland Canadian Juniors earlier this season. Northern Ontario can get into the 1-2 game if it beats Alberta tonight and Ontario loses because even though both teams would be 9-2, Jacobs defeated Epping on the first day of the event.

Ontario defeated Alberta 9-6 to keep its hopes of the 1-2 game alive.

“I’m really happy with where we are, in the playoffs and with a chance to be in the 1-2 playoff game with a win tonight. You can’t ask for anything more than that,” said Epping, who is making his first Tim Hortons Brier appearance despite a ton of success on the curling tour.

“We’ve been in the mix at big events before. We’ve been right in the mix in Canada Cups. The Olympic trials obviously didn’t go as well, but we’ve been on the big stage before so it’s just really nice to play really, really well when we’re at this stage.”

Epping believes his team is ready to play for a Canadian championship.

“We really haven’t thought about that, we’ve been thinking about winning games. It’s going to be different if we get into a position where we have a chance to win on Sunday night. I can’t even imagine. It’s always tough when you haven’t been in a position before to say that you won’t be as nervous. I definitely think there will be some nerves. I’m generally not a nervous guy, but I think this weekend I’ll be battling some nerves.”

Alberta (7-3) can nab the final playoff spot and avoid having to play a tiebreaker if Brendan Bottcher’s squad from Edmonton beats Northern Ontario. A loss and a win by Team Wild Card (6-4) over Reid Carruthers of Manitoba (West St. Paul) would mean Alberta and Team Wild Card will play a Saturday morning tiebreaker for fourth place.

“We needed to win a game today and now we’ll have to win the second one,” said Bottcher.

Slider made some new friends at the Brandt Centre on Friday. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Wild Card skip Mike McEwen delivered a draw to the four-foot to secure a 6-4 win over Saskatchewan (Saskatoon), eliminating the Steve Laycock-skipped squad (5-5) from advancing to the weekend.

“Daddy’s got his draw weight back,” laughed McEwen as he held his daughter Vienna, 3, whom he hadn’t seen in a week. “Things worked out. We needed Mr. Epping, Team Ontario, to come up big for us and he did and we’ve still got life.

“We’ll me cheering hard for the moose (Northern Ontario) tonight, but we’ve got a big battle on our own hands. Reid beats us lots, so we’ll have a battle to beat Manitoba. They’re out, but they’ll be a lot of pride on the table for them so they’ll play us hard.”

Nova Scotia (Halifax) skip Jamie Murphy defeated Manitoba 7-5 leaving both teams at 5-5.

The 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic, continues with a draw today at 7 p.m. (all times CST). If necessary, a tiebreaker will be played Saturday at 9 a.m. The Page playoff 3-4 game is at 2 p.m. and the 1-2 game at 7 p.m.

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