ST. JOHN’S — Brad Gushue’s Brier dream is still alive.
The Newfoundland/Labrador skip, playing on home ice in his hometown, and shooting almost perfect himself, led his team to a methodical 7-5 win over Mike McEwen of Manitoba (Winnipeg) in Friday’s Page 1-2 playoff game at the Tim Hortons Brier.
“That was our best game all week,” said Gushue. “We controlled it right from the get-go. We didn’t make any mistakes … just a lot of good shots.”
The win moves Gushue, vice-skip Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker and coach Jules Owchar directly to Sunday’s final at 8 p.m. NST. They got there last year but lost to Alberta’s Kevin Koe.
“I just hope a guy doesn’t curl as well against us as Kevin Koe did last year,” Gushue said, adding the experience will be beneficial. “It’s going to help. I think we’re going to be a little more relaxed, even though we’re at home. We’re ready, I really believe we’re ready.”
McEwen, vice-skip B.J. Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak, lead Denni Neufeld and coach Chris Neufeld will play in Saturday’s 8 p.m. semifinal against the winner of the Page 3-4 game between Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs and Team Canada’s Koe foursome.
Gushue, who shot 95 per cent in the game, forced Manitoba to take a single in the first end, scored two himself in the second and stole a huge single in eight.
“Ah, almost perfect,” a member of the Manitoba team could be heard muttering after Neufeld’s gentle tapback in the fifth end was about two inches short of perfection. That seemed to be the problem for Manitoba – close but not close enough.
Those inches were all the room Nichols needed to bring the heat and clean the house. Instead of having a chance for two, Manitoba had to blank the end and go into the break down 4-2.
“We threw a lot of quality shots out there, but the margin of error was so small with how well they were playing,” said McEwen. “We would have to be very close to perfect to beat them.”
The final pivotal end was the seventh when Gushue stole one. McEwen tried a triple and, typical of the way the game went for Manitoba, both his stones rolled inches too far.
“Was looking like a really good chance to tie it up,” McEwen said of the end. “His roll, you couldn’t have taken his rock and placed it there by hand any better. He made an absolutely perfect shot. We actually played a shot we thought was there and it turned wasn’t actually there for two.”
Manitoba finally got a deuce in eight, but Newfoundland/Labrador, shooting 94 per cent as a team, responded with two in nine.
Both teams finished round-robin play with 9-2 records after winning their final games earlier in the day. Manitoba earned first place by beating Newfoundland/Labrador in the round-robin.
In Saturday’s Page 3-4 game at 3 p.m. NST, Team Canada will take on Northern Ontario (Sault Ste Marie). They both finished 8-3 and Team Canada will have the hammer, having beaten Northern Ontario 6-4 in the round-robin.
“It’s kind of your classic coin-flip situation, it could go either way,” Jacobs said of the rematch from last year’s Tim Hortons Brier semifinal, won by Koe. “Whoever plays best tomorrow will win. That’s what this will come down to.”
Koe said the Jacobs crew is “one of our favourite teams to play against, a great team obviously. We’ve had some battles with them, going back to the Brier semi last year and I’m sure tomorrow will be another one.”