Strong start for Gushue!
Canada’s Olympic bronze-medal winners bolt from the blocks at Tim Hortons Brier
They’re tired, only recently over jet lag, and in desperate need of some well-deserved R&R.
But skip Brad Gushue and his Team Wild Card 1 are also proud competitors, and they proved it again Saturday afternoon by winning their opening game of the 2022 Tim Horton Brier, presented by AGI, in dominating fashion at the ENMAX Centre in Lethbridge, Alta.
“It was good. It was fun out there.,” laughed Gushue (1-0, St. John’s), whose team from the REMAX Centre in the capital city of Newfoundland & Labrador cruised to a 9-3 win over skip Mike Fournier’s Team Quebec (0-1, Dollard-des-Ormeaux), to kick off play in the nine-team, Pool B round robin. “The fact that we took things pretty light and kept things loose helped.”
Gushue’s team from The Rock came into the Canadian men’s curling championship far from being bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. The 41-year-old skipper admitted his team is still tired after clinching a bronze medal for Canada at the recent Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.
“Our expectations won’t be as high as they normally would be,” the three-time Canadian men’s champ said prior to the start of the Tim Hortons Brier. “But we’ll grind it out and play our hardest and see what happens.”
It was hardly a grind Saturday. Gushue — supported by vice-skip Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker and coached by Jules Owchar — produced a very thorough and clinical victory.
It was vintage Gushue. Pressure, pressure, pressure. His team hit the ground running and had Team Quebec on the ropes right from the start, forcing last-rock thrower Félix Asselin to make back-to-back doubles to limit Gushue to a first-end deuce.
Asselin was up against it again in the second end, facing four with his last rock, after Nichols made a spectacular triple takeout. Asselin’s draw to the four-foot came up a bit short with furious brushing, handing Gushue a steal of one.
And so it went. Every time Asselin looked up from the hack, the other end looked like a field of daisies.
“We made a lot of shots, which is fun,” said Gushue. “We’re just trying to weather the storm in the first four or five games. If we’re able to weather that storm, obviously expectations are going to increase.”
It was also a highly-successful start Saturday for another high-profile team in the 18-team Tim Hortons Brier field. Brad Jacobs, the 2014 Olympic gold-medal winner and 2013 Canadian champ, skipped Team Northern Ontario (1-0, Sault Ste. Marie) to a 5-3 win over Jason Gunnlaugson’s Wild Card #3 (0-1, Morris, Man.).
Jacobs, who lost the final of the Tim Hortons Trials last November in Saskatoon to Gushue, is looking to put that huge disappointment in the rear-view mirror, and looked sharp in disposing the Gunner’s Manitoba crew.
It was a big win for second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden, who won their 100th games at the Tim Hortons Brier representing Northern Ontario — four back of their cousin Jacobs.
In other Pool B openers, Mike McEwen’s Team Manitoba (1-0, West St. Paul) posted a 10-3 win over Team British Columbia (0-1, New Westminster), skipped by Brent Pierce, and skip Paul Flemming’s Team Nova Scotia (1-0, Halifax), got past Team Northwest Territories (0-1, Yellowknife), skipped by Jamie Koe, 11-5.
McEwen looked particularly dangerous and shot a solid 91 per cent. He made a nice soft weight tapback for four in the third end to break the game open.
“That was probably one of my best first games ever at the Brier,” said McEwen, who was playing with alternate Colton Lott at lead. Regular lead Colin Hodgson received a positive COVID test prior to the competition.
“Wow, was that ice surface good,” added McEwen. “That’s the most comfortable I’ve ever been on a surface right out of the gate. If it can stay anywhere near that the rest of the week, we’re going to have conditions curlers dream of.”
The Tim Hortons Brier is being played this year with no capacity limits, unlike last season in Calgary where the COVID-19 viral scourge forced players to play in a ‘bubble’ environment without spectators. Attendance so far has been excellent.
The 18 teams that participate in the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier include representatives from each of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, a team from northern Ontario, the defending champion (Team Canada) and three wild card teams. The teams are split into two pools of nine and will play a complete eight-game round robin.
The top three teams from each pool will advance to a preliminary playoff field, which will be further reduced to a final four and a Page playoff system.
The final goes Sunday, March 13.
The 2022 Tim Hortons Brier continues with a draw Saturday at 6:30 p.m. (all times MT).
Live scoring, standings and statistics for the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier are available at curling.ca/scoreboard.
TSN and RDS2 (streamed on ESPN3 in the United States) will provide complete coverage of the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier. CLICK HERE for the complete schedule.
For ticket information for the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier, go to www.curling.ca/2022brier/tickets/
This story will be available in French as soon as possible at www.curling.ca/2022brier/nouvelles/?lang=fr