It’s on to the semis!

Team Wild Card #1 celebrates after its Page 3-4 playoff win over Ontario on Saturday at the Tim Hortons Brier. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Team Bottcher moves on to semifinal at Tim Hortons Brier

Skip Brendan Bottcher finally figured out how to win the Canadian men’s curling championship in 2021, and he knew the only way to repeat was through hard work and with a dynamite lineup.

He’s come up with both, and this week the results have been on display at the Tim Hortons Brier, presented by AGI, in London, Ont.

Bottcher’s Team Wild Card #1, representing the Glencoe Club in Calgary, took another giant step toward the title Saturday by defeating Team Ontario 6-3 in the 3-4 Page playoff at Budweiser Gardens.

The win advances the Albertans (third Marc Kennedy, second Brett Gallant, lead Ben Hebert, and alternate Paul Webster) to Sunday’s semifinal game. They will face the loser of Saturday’s 7 p.m. (all times Eastern) 1-2 Page playoff game featuring Team Manitoba, skipped by Matt Dunstone, and Team Canada, helmed by Brad Gushue.

“I thought we played a great game,” said Bottcher, who ended the Tim Hortons Brier aspirations of skip Mike McEwen and his team from the Royal Canadian Curling Club in Toronto. 

Both teams had plenty of support on Saturday. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

“Hopefully we’ll have a couple of good games tomorrow and we’ll see how we do.”

It was a terrific chess match, but Team Bottcher had the jump on Team Ontario right from get-go, forcing McEwen to bail out of trouble time and time again. McEwen needed a draw, facing three, in the second, and a delicate come-around tap, facing three in the fourth, to get singles. Ontario third Brent Laing also pulled off a sensation triple in the third to blow up a potential Wild Card #1 big end.

But you can only keep your finger in the dyke for so long before it bursts. Team Bottcher took control in the sixth with a well-constructed deuce, and then forced McEwen to make a difficult angle raise with the hammer in the seventh to score just one.

Bottcher was forced to take a single in the eighth, to go up 5-3, but his hit-and-roll behind cover put Team McEwen in a pickle again, setting up another crushing steal. Bottcher’s ability to hit and roll behind cover was one of the consistent elements of the game.

McEwen, skipping an Ontario team for the first time after seven national appearances representing either Manitoba or a wild card team, said he wasn’t disappointed but felt for his teammates (third Ryan Fry, second Brent Laing, lead Joey Hart and coach Richard Hart) who had worked so hard this week and achieved so much.

“We played a great game,” he said, “but they put on a hitting clinic. Not too often you see a team convert that many runs and doubles. We weren’t far from hanging in there. I had one little tick on a chaser and that runner (in the seventh) goes a little different and it’s a tie game.

“I’m proud of us. We let it all hang out there and played well. Nothing to be ashamed about.”

It was a thrilling week for the Ontario side, which recovered from a slow 2-2 start, then rattled off five straight victories, two of which mirrored Houdini-type escapes.

In the end, though, they just ran out of shots. Even down by three in the 10th, they tried to manufacture the tying points, but a rocket by Bottcher with his first cleaned things up.

Team Ontario skip Mike McEwen, right, watches his shot as Team Wild Card #1’s Ben Hebert looks on. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

“We got into a little trouble in that last end and I needed to come up with a good one on my first, and it was just perfect,” said Bottcher. “A good team shot. I really feel in the last couple of days we’ve been ramping up and playing great.”

Bottcher, who won his only Tim Hortons Brier in the Calgary bubble as the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the land, prepared for another Olympic quadrennial by putting together a team that could get the job done for the second time, and believes he has that team now. A big addition was Gallant, who was a mainstay on Gushue’s Newfoundland and Labrador team. Together, the team of Gushue, third Mark Nichols, Gallant and lead Geoff Walker won four Tim Hortons Briers, a world championship, and an Olympic bronze medal.

Gallant, 33, originally from Charlottetown, wanted to be closer to family and his wife — and mixed doubles curling partner — Jocelyn Peterman in Alberta.

The final goes Sunday at 7 p.m. (ET).

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.

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