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Literally, a perfect start for Brad Gushue as his St. John's rink begins play at the Brier

Brad Gushue got perfect marks on all 18 rocks he threw as he and Team Canada defeated Ontario 6-2 in the opening draw of the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier Friday night in Calgary. — Curling Canada photo
Brad Gushue got perfect marks on all 18 rocks he threw as he and Team Canada defeated Ontario 6-2 in the opening draw of the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier Friday night in Calgary. — Curling Canada photo

Defending champion skip curls 100 per cent in 6-2 Draw 1 win over Ontario; Greg Smith and N.L. fall 7-6 to Quebec

If Brad Gushue had any rust on him entering the opening draw of the Tim Hortons Brier in Calgary, it must have been rust created by some precious metal, perhaps on the crown he and his teammates own.

Gushue curled a perfect game as he and his Team Canada rink out of St. John’s opened defence of their Canadian men’s curling championship with a decisive 6-2 win over John Epping and Ontario on Friday night.

It’s the fifth time Gushue has curled 100 per cent in a Brier game, including in a game against Manitoba last year as he, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker moved toward their fourth Canadian men’s title.

It was a solid all-around performance for the rink out of the Re/Max Curling Centre (St. John’s Curling Club), which as a team curled 91 per cent. That included what had to be an especially pleasing 92 per cent by Walker, who was playing with his teammates for the first time since they took the Brier in 2020. After then, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the remainder of the 2019-20 curling season, including the world men’s championship, and resulted in travel restrictions and quarantine rules that made it extremely difficult — at times impossible — for Walker, who lives in Alberta and is the designated out-of-province player, to join his teammates.



Even then, the Gushue team only competed in two bonspiels, both in Halifax in the fall, and was denied crucial pre-Brier practice time by the recent Alert Level 5 lockdown on the Avalon Peninsula after a COVID-19 variant outbreak in the metro St. John’s area.

All that generated concern heading into Calgary, but much of that must have dissipated in the game against Epping, which began with Gushue and Co. winning the draw to the button and last-rock advantage in the first end.

After three blank ends that amounted to a feeling-out process, Gushue scored two in the fourth, added two more in the sixth after giving up a single to Ontario in the fifth, and never looked back. After Gushue scored one in the ninth for the 6-2 lead, Epping conceded.

The Team Canada-Ontario matchup was the featured game on TSN’s televised broadcast of the first draw, and its early end provided a little screen/stream time to Newfoundland and Labrador’s other entry at this Brier. The Greg Smith rink from the Re/Max Centre and Bally Haly, St. John’s other curling club, was up against Quebec in a game that turned out to be the last to finish.


Newfoundland and Labrador skip Greg Smith did his gum-chewing best to exhort his team to victory in their first game at the 2021 Brier, but they lost 7-6 to Quebec. — Curling Canada photo
Newfoundland and Labrador skip Greg Smith did his gum-chewing best to exhort his team to victory in their first game at the 2021 Brier, but they lost 7-6 to Quebec. — Curling Canada photo


Smith, Greg Blyde, Alex McDonah and Evan McDonah ended up losing 7-6. They trailed Michael Fournier foursome’s 7-5 entering the 10th end, although Smith did attempt a low-chance, circus shot for what would have been a winning three points, only to wind up with a single that left them just short.

Quebec will be the opponent for Gushue and Team Canada today (5 p.m. NT), while the same draw sees the N.L. provincial representatives headed up by Smith take on a wild-card entry skipped by two-time word and four-time Brier champion Kevin Koe.

They are all part of one of two nine-team pools in what is the largest Brier field ever, consisting of teams representing the 10 provinces, three territories and Northern Ontario, plus Team Canada and three wild-card teams.

After the preliminary round, which sees each team play eight games, the top four finishers in each pool advance to what is termed the championship round, taking their preliminary records with them. There, they play four more games — basically, crossovers against the teams from the opposite pool — and then the three teams with the best overall records move on to the medal round. The first-place team goes straight to the final, with its championship-game opponent decided by a 2-3 semifinal. Both those games will be played March 14.

All of this is happening inside a bubble created in response to the pandemic, with no fans in the stands and limited interaction for players, meaning they face additional opponents in inactivity and boredom as they spend a great deal of time confined to team hotels.


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