REGINA – In its first appearance as Team Canada, Brad Gushue’s team from St. John’s showed why it is the defending world champion.
What also showed was the lack of weight on the players’ shoulders compared to a year ago. That’s when they had all the pressure of being the home team at the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier in St. John’s.
Gushue – backed by third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker, alternate Tom Sallows and coach Jules Owchar – dominated from start to finish Saturday night to down Sean Geall of British Columbia (Kelowna) 10-2 in Pool A opening draw play at the 16-team 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic.
“A lot less stressful,” said Gushue with a chuckle when asked to compare the pressure of their opening games at the two Tim Hortons Briers. “There’s not much I’m going to do in my curling career that’s going to match the pressure we felt last year, and the pressure we put on ourselves. Everything else pales in comparison.
“We just enjoyed being out there today. This year has been a bit different with two Olympic trials (men’s and mixed doubles) and kind of a grind. We’re just trying to enjoy this week. Obviously as the week goes on and you get into some big games you’re going to tighten the screws and the games are going to get a little bit more intense, but we’re really just trying to enjoy being Team Canada out there.”
B.C., meanwhile, was a bit distracted. Lead David Harper was replaced by alternate Brad Wood after the fourth end when Harper had to leave to be with his wife who was in labour with their first child back home to Kelowna. Third Jeff Richard’s wife is due to give birth to their second child late next week.
“He was supposed to be out on the plane this afternoon and it got cancelled,” said Geall. “We’re going to cross our fingers to hear that he made it home in time tonight.
“We thought we’d start out there with him because he deserved that, he was part of our team all year, and send him on his way when we could.”
Needless to say, Richard’s wife has been requested to hold off until at least Harper returns.
“Jeff tells her daily. At least for 48 hours now, depending when Dave’s wife decides it’s time,” said Geall.
Gushue said he knows from experience it’s tough to play when a player’s wife is expecting.
“They had a tough situation to face,” said Gushue. “They’ve got much bigger things going on in their lives. A bit of a tough situation for Sean and the other guys too because obviously you want to make sure they’re doing the best thing for them in their personal life, but they also want to curl too.”
On the sheet next to him was Team Newfoundland/Labrador, skipped by Greg Smith. The energetic 21-year-old, who has been watching Gushue play since before he was 10 years old, duked it out with 12-time Brier participant Jamie Koe of Northwest Territories (Yellowknife) in a wild game. After taking a 7-4 lead with four in the fifth end, Smith struggled from there, losing 9-7.
Team Wild Card, skipped by Mike McEwen (Winnipeg), rode a first-end three to down the Yukon’s Thomas Scoffin (Whitehorse) 5-3.
In the other game, Jamie Murphy of Nova Scotia (Halifax) pulled off a minor upset by defeating Alberta (Edmonton) skipped by Brendan Bottcher, 7-6 in an extra end.
The Battle of Ontario went to the north.
Brad Jacobs and his Northern Ontario (Sault Ste. Marie) team defeated John Epping of Toronto 4-3 in the opening draw of the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier presented by Mosaic Saturday afternoon.
It was a game in which neither team – both of whom played in the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings three months ago in Ottawa – managed to either score two points with the hammer or steal a point. It took a while for both to figure out the ice and the rocks in front of a nearly full crowd at the Brandt Centre.
“We were really just happy to go out there and get the first win,” said Jacobs. “I just like the way we hung in there and nobody got too frustrated with the things that were going on. Both teams had their misses because it’s so early in the event. I think everyone’s going to get sharper as the week goes along here, but despite some of the misses and some of the moments where we could have probably let that get to us we kept our cool, kept plugging away trying to make the next one.”
Jacobs said team communication on the ice intricacies and rock differences with third Ryan Fry, second E.J. Harnden, lead Ryan Harnden, alternate Tanner Horgan and coach Caleb Flaxey was a key to victory.
“We nailed everything pretty well on the head as early as we could in that game and I think that’s one of the reasons that we won,” said Jacobs.
The game was the first at the Tim Hortons Brier for Epping, third Mat Camm, second Patrick Janssen, lead Tim March and coach Jim Wilson, despite Epping having participated in three trials and five Home Hard Ware Canada Cups.
“We should have won that one,” said Epping. “We had chances early to get control. They had chances too and they didn’t capitalize. It just seemed like both teams had chances and didn’t put the other team away. Brad made a good one on his first one in the last end or we probably steal the game.
“The ice is great, you’ve just got to settle in and learn what it’s doing. It’s a tough one when you have a chance to win, that’s a tough one out there. When you get a chance to beat those guys you need to.”
While points were at a premium in the Battle of Ontario on the sheet beside them, they were plentiful between Manitoba and Prince Edward Island as Reid Carruthers (West St. Paul) downed Eddie MacKenzie’s Charlottetown team 12-7 in eight ends. Manitoba scored three in the first, second and seventh ends while P.E.I. had a four in the third end.
The Manitoba player that probably got the most out of the win was third Braeden Moskowy, a Regina resident. The two-time Saskatchewan junior champion and 2011 Canadian junior champ figured he had close to 50 family and friends following him in the first draw ranging from parents, step-parents, siblings, high school and golf buddies. A couple of his friends were providing plenty of vocal support for him during the game.
“I was beginning to think I would need an agent to get all the tickets,” Moskowy told a phalanx of Regina journalists scrumming him after the game.
The opening draw didn’t have the same happy ending for Saskatchewan (Saskatoon) and the home-province fans. Skip Steve Laycock, with Matt Dunstone throwing last rocks, was beaten 5-2 by Quebec (Dollard-des-Ormeaux), skipped by 46-year-old Brier rookie Mike Fournier.
New Brunswick’s James Grattan (Oromocto), playing in his 12th Brier, opened with a 9-3 victory over David St. Louis of Nunavut (Iqaluit).
The 2018 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Mosaic, continues with draws Sunday at 9 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (all times CST).
Live scoring, standings and statistics for the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier are available at www.curling.ca/scoreboard/
TSN and RDS2 (streamed on ESPN3 in the United States) will provide complete coverage of the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier. Go to www.tsn.ca/2017-18-curling-broadcast-schedule-1.593081 for the complete schedule.