(by Jonathan Brazeau)
PICTOU COUNTY, N.S. — Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., are all tuned up for the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge Tier 1 men’s playoffs after nabbing the No. 1 seed for Saturday’s quarterfinals.
Brad Gushue shoots a stone during the final round-robin draw of the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge on Nov. 8, 2019, in Pictou County, N.S. P.E.I.’s Brett Gallant is on the right (Anil Mungal)
Gushue, who has won 11 titles in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series, completed a 4-0 round-robin run with an 8-4 victory over world No. 1 Team John Epping of Toronto during Friday evening’s pool play finale. Epping was eliminated with a 1-3 record.
“It’s good,” Team Gushue third Mark Nichols said. “John played us tough tonight and we had a couple of loose shots or loose ends as compared to the first three games. Maybe tighten that up a little going into the quarterfinals.”
Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher also posted a perfect 4-0 record, however, Gushue’s superior draw-to-the-button shootout tally scored the top seed.
Both await tiebreaker winners between Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat vs. Winnipeg’s Team Mike McEwen and Team Niklas Edin of Sweden vs. Winnipeg’s Team Jason Gunnlaugson.
Mouat upended McEwen 8-5 in Draw 13 to stay in the mix and force the rematch Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. AT.
Elsewhere in Draw 13, Team John Shuster of the United States beat Calgary’s Kevin Koe 6-3 to hand the reigning Brier champions their first loss of the tournament. Both clubs finished with 3-1 round-robin records and will face off again in the quarterfinals at 4:30 p.m. AT.
Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Team Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., also qualified with 3-1 records and square off in the quarterfinals.
The playoff picture is complete in the Tier 1 women’s division with Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones and Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., advancing out of the tiebreakers.
Jones scored two in the eighth and stole the extra end from Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan 6-5 while Einarson ousted Team Robyn Silvernagle of North Battleford, Sask., 6-3.
“We’re really excited about the playoffs,” Team Jones third Kaitlyn Lawes said. “That was a battle this last game in a tiebreaker but we knew it would be. It always is against Rachel’s team and they’re one of my favourite teams to play against.”
Although Homan held the hammer in the extra end, the record 10-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling women’s title winner attempted a tricky double with her last. Homan couldn’t quite pull it off missing the mark on the back one with her shooter rolling out as well.
“The biggest thing is always patience and just try and find a way,” Lawes said. “We never gave up, so I think that was big for us. We tried to make Rachel make a hard shot and fortunately for us she was just a little back on it.”
Jones will play Team Nina Roth (4-0) of the United States and Einarson goes up against Switzerland’s Team Silvana Tirinzoni (4-0) in the quarterfinals at 12:30 p.m. AT.
The other matches see Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg against Edmonton’s Team Kelsey Rocque and Masters champions Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, Man., facing Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa.
The semifinals are scheduled for Saturday evening at 8:30 p.m. AT with the finals set for Sunday.
The broadcast resumes with around-the-rings coverage of the women’s quarterfinals at 12:30 p.m. AT / 11:30 a.m. ET on Sportsnet. Online streaming is available via Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).
The KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge is the second of six events on the 2019-20 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling schedule. … Winners of the Tier 1 divisions earn $30,000 and berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup. … Also up for grabs in the Tier 1 are Pinty’s Cup bonus points. The leaders following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April will capture the Pinty’s Cup with additional prize money awarded. … Winners of the Tier 2 divisions earn $10,000 and promotions to face the world’s best at the 2020 Meridian Canadian Open.