A Team Canada blowout!

Team Canada celebrates its victory over Ontario in the Page playoff seeding round on Friday night. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Defending champs through to 1-2 game at Tim Hortons Brier

Brad Gushue knows the clock is ticking and his window to win a record-breaking fifth Canadian men’s curling championship as a skip will close, so there’s a bit of urgency for him in London, Ont., this year.

That urgency was apparent Friday night as the 42-year-old skip of Team Canada representing the RE/MAX Centre in St. John’s, N.L., whipped up a solid 9-3 win over Team Ontario in the Page playoffs seeding round of the 2023 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by AGI, at Budweiser Gardens.

The win was crucial because it catapulted Team Gushue’s defending champions into the 1-2 Page playoff game Saturday at 7 p.m.

Manitoba skip Matt Dunstone celebrates his win on Friday night. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

His opponent will be skip Matt Dunstone’s Team Manitoba (Fort Rouge Club, Winnipeg), which won the other Page seeding game in spectacular fashion over skip Brendan Bottcher’s Team Wild Card #1 (Calgary Glencoe Club). Dunstone threaded the needle with his final stone of the 10th end to score three to pull out a 5-3 victory.

“That last end was fun,” said Dunstone. “It’s always great when it comes down to last stone.”

McEwen, riding a five-game win streak and with good fortune riding shotgun for him, looked like a good bet to extend his winning streak, but Gushue didn’t build his world-class resume by losing big games. And he didn’t count on Team Ontario having some problems with the ice.

The game swung sharply in Team Canada’s direction in the fourth end when McEwen, down 3-2, missed both his shots, including a backbreaker when he was short with his draw to the button area facing three.

Things went from bad to worse in the fifth for Team Ontario, representing the Royal Canadian Club in Toronto, when McEwen flashed an open hit with his first rock and was unable to clean up a huge mess of Team Canada rocks with the hammer, giving up two more.

Gushue fell behind early, giving up a steal of two in the second end, but came back strong with three in the third.

“Once we got that three you could feel the momentum shift,” he said. “We played great.”

Team Wild Card #1 skip Brendan Bottcher calls instructions to his sweepers. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Team Canada lost to Team Ontario in the round robin for its only loss, but the rematch was completely different.

“Mike’s team played better in that first game,” said Gushue. “Obviously they didn’t make as many shot today.” 

McEwen, who had to win a playoff qualifying game earlier in the day against Team Alberta, said his team will have to regroup.

“I’m pretty sure I never heard of anyone win the Brier on Friday,” he said. “We’re playing tomorrow. I think we can shake this off. Short-term memory.”

The Bottcher-Dunstone matchup was considered a coin-flip at best, but Bottcher controlled the game from the outset. Team Manitoba, which rolled through the round-robin portion of the event like a runaway train, undefeated and unchallenged, appeared to be headed for its first defeat, but Dunstone made two great shots to pull out the win in the 10th. His first was a three-rock raise to get shot rock, and the second a through-the-port hit for three.

“This team has been waiting for that moment all year,” said Dunstone. “The guys set up the end great. What a phenomenal moment.” 

Team McEwen and Team Bottcher, who meet Saturday at 1 p.m. in the 3-4 game, can take solace in the fact Manitoba’s Kerri Einarson won the last two Scotties Tournament of Hearts coming through the 3-4 game.

The final goes Sunday, March 12.

The Tim Hortons Brier champion will wear the Maple Leaf at the 2023 BKT Tires & OK Tire World Men’s Curling Championship, April 1-9 in Ottawa.

Live scoring, standings and statistics for the 2023 Tim Hortons Brier are available at curling.ca/scoreboard.

TSN and RDS2 will provide complete coverage of the 2023 Tim Hortons Brier. CLICK HERE for the complete schedule.

For ticket information for the 2023 Tim Hortons Brier, go to www.curling.ca/2023brier/tickets/