If Team Manitoba was going develop any momentum in the Championship Pool of the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier, defeating Brad Gushue’s Team Canada would have done it.
Instead, Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers rink – skipped by former Brandonite, Mike McEwen – dropped a 6-3 decision despite hanging with Canada through most of the game.
McEwen felt his rink played well despite the loss. With a 4-3 record coming out of the preliminary round, defeating teams like Canada was integral to their long-term chances at claiming a berth in the bracket round on Saturday.
“You don’t get much margin for error when you’re playing a well-oiled team like that,” McEwen said immediately after the match Thursday afternoon.
“I thought there were a lot of good throws on our side. I thought we were dealing with a little bit of a difficult set of rocks. That’s one of the most unmatched sets out on the ice here, but we tried our best.”
Carruthers started well, giving up just a single point to Canada in the first end without the hammer then collecting a single in the second to tie the game. Canada blanked the next two ends to hold the hammer and earned a 3-1 lead at the fifth-end break with a draw to the button to count two.
Manitoba responded with a single in the sixth, then forced Canada to chip a pair of opposition rocks to score one of their own. It was 4-2 with McEwen holding the hammer for end seven, but they only managed one point with Canada’s two stones spread wide in the house and no other Manitoba counters.
McEwen made a tight draw with his last stone in the ninth, but was not able to gain scoring position. Gushue drew to the right edge of the button for another two points and a three-point advantage as the teams moved into the final end. Canada simply ran Manitoba out of the rocks and the teams shook hands before McEwen could throw his final stone.
“It was a strong game,” said Gushue. “I thought we played real well and really controlled the game. There really weren’t many opportunities to kind of get away from him and get some separation, but I felt like we had control, kept the hammer and got one up with the lead, which was nice.”
Canada earned its seventh win of the Brier, pulling their record to 7-1. Manitoba, meanwhile, were needing a near-flawless run through the Championship Pool to earn a berth into weekend play.
Also in tough with 4-3 records heading into the Championship Pool were British Columbia, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
Unbeaten Alberta and Northern Ontario continued to roll Thursday afternoon. Both teams earned victories to open the playdowns.
Alberta opened the Championship round against the 6-1 Wild Card Brendan Bottcher rink. After blanking the first end, Koe counted two in the second. Bottcher rebounded with two of his own in the third end, then forced Alberta to take a single in the next end to make the score 3-2. Bottcher scored a single of his own to tie the game heading into the fifth-end break.
Alberta opened the second half with a single in the sixth then Wild Card blanked the seventh to maintain the hammer. It proved to be a good move as Bottcher scored two then stole one to take a 6-4 lead into the final end.
But it wasn’t enough. The Koe rink wasn’t finished. By skip stones, Alberta was lying four due to a jammed take-out by Wild Card third Darren Moulding. Bottcher froze to the counting stone and was protected by two other Alberta rocks, but Koe finished the game by picking out the counting rock and scoring three on the end for a 7-6 victory.
Other scores during the afternoon draw included an 11-4 victory for the unbeaten Northern Ontario versus British Columbia after eight ends, and Saskatchewan dropped a 7-4 decision to Ontario.
Tonight’s draw will see Manitoba facing a tough Alberta crew, while Ontario meets Northern Ontario, Canada is against Saskatchewan and Bottcher’s Wild Card hits the ice versus British Columbia.