Trio of teams qualify for Tim Hortons Brier Page playoffs

REGINA – They are the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier champions and the 2014 Olympic gold medallists. But that was then and this is now — the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic, and Brad Jacobs’ Northern Ontario team wants to return to the top of the podium. Jacobs and Co. took another step to reaching that goal with a surprisingly easy 8-1 victory over 2017 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings trials finalist Mike McEwen’s Team Wild Card. The score also mirrors Northern Ontario’s record, 8-1, at top of the Championship Pool standings alongside John Epping of Ontario (Toronto) and Team Canada skipped by Brad Gushue (St. John’s). All three have clinched a spot in the weekend’s final four Page playoffs heading into Friday’s final two draws of the Championship Pool. The top two will play in the 1-2 Page Playoff game Saturday night while the next two will qualify for the 3-4 game Saturday afternoon. Northern Ontario (Sault Ste. Marie) stayed in the top three by taking out Team Wild Card (5-4) in just six ends. It was basically over after the first end when Jacobs had an easy takeout to score six. Jacobs, third Ryan Fry, second E.J. Harnden, lead Ryan Harnden, alternate Tanner Horgan and coach Caleb Flaxey converted the touchdown with a steal in the second end. It was the 11th point in four ends McEwen gave up Thursday. In the afternoon, Epping scored two in the ninth end and then got a steal of two in the 10th, when McEwen’s final draw to the four-foot went deep, for an 8-7 win. “They’ve gone through a real bad stretch, but every single team out there has gone on that same bad stretch. I am very confident they’re going to be able bounce back and make a push for the playoffs,” said Fry. “We knew coming into today we needed a good performance to put ourselves in a position for the playoffs and we did that. This is a marathon, not a sprint, this event. We’re just trying to take it one game at a time and hopefully find ourselves in the (Page) playoffs 1-2 game.” Although they made a push for the playoffs at the trials they weren’t able to get there, and have a silver and bronze to show for their last three trips to the Tim Hortons Brier. “We have a massive desire to win another Brier. That’s our sole goal. Now the difference is we’ve been through it as a team. Every which way you can possibly to win a Brier and lose Briers. It comes with a sense of calming and you just basically go out and try your best … and let chips fall where they may,” said Fry. Just like against Team Wild Card, Epping got another steal of two in the 10th end to finally subdue Jamie Murphy of Nova Scotia 9-6, which dropped the Halifax squad to 4-5. “That was two grinding wins out there today, and we were lucky we battled back in both games and hung in there,” said Epping, who curls with third Mat Camm, second Pat Janssen, lead Tim March and coach Jim Wilson. “That’s what we do best, we never do anything easy.

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

“We’ll be very happy to be in the final four, but (the 1-2 game) is obviously a huge bonus. We just need to go out and play well (Friday). We weren’t at our best today. Good enough, obviously, we got two Ws, but we need to be better tomorrow.” Team Canada stayed with the two Ontarios by edging Steve Laycock (5-4) of Saskatchewan (Saskatoon) 5-4 in an extra end. It sets up a showdown Friday afternoon for Team Canada against Northern Ontario. “You’ve got to get in the playoffs, that’s the first step, but now you’ve got to worry about positioning. Hopefully we get in the 1-2 game, that’s the big goal,” said Gushue. It was Black Thursday for both teams from Manitoba. Reid Carruthers (West St. Paul) also lost both games. Alberta, skipped by Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher defeated Manitoba (5-4) 8-2 in the evening draw. Bottcher bounced back from an 8-6 loss to Saskatchewan in the afternoon to improve to 7-2. Alberta needs just one win Friday to be the fourth team in the Page playoffs. The 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic, continues with draws Friday at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (all times CST).

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