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Brad Gushue in familiar territory in Canadian men’s curling championship final

Brad Gushue was a win away from making more curling history at the Canadian men’s championship.

The defending Brier champion defeated tournament top seed Brendan Bottcher of Alberta 7-3 in a playoff game Saturday night to earn an express ticket to Sunday evening’s final in Regina’s Brandt Centre.

Bottcher dropped to Sunday afternoon’s semifinal to face Saskatchewan’s Mike McEwen, who was a 6-5 winner earlier over Matt Dunstone.

Gushue manages a problematic hip, so one less game between his team and another title was desirable.

“We’re not young, so getting there efficiently is important,” said the 43-year-old. “It’s a challenge to play that semifinal and play the final again. I’d rather go this route.”

Gushue, third Mark Nichols and lead Geoff Walker were attempting to win the sixth Canadian men’s curling championship of their careers and third straight, which would tie both of Randy Ferbey’s records.

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Gushue could become the first man to skip a team to six Brier titles.

Winning a nervous first title in Gushue’s hometown of St. John’s, N.L., in 2017, broke the Brier ice for him. His team repeated in 2018 in Regina playing like a team with no pressure on it. They’ve been perennial contenders the last six years.

“If I win this, or we pull out the win tomorrow, it’s not going to change much in our lives,” Gushue said. “We know this is not a huge life-changing event for us anymore, so it takes a lot of the edge off. And we had a lot of edge in 2017.”

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Gushue and Nichols will appear in an eighth Brier final to rank third all-time alongside Kevin Koe. Only Glenn Howard (11) and his former teammate Brent Laing (9) have appeared in more.

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“I know the nerves are going to be there,” Gushue said. “I’m not going to be able to eat as much tomorrow. That’s not going to surprise me. It’s not going to make me more nervous. It’s actually going to get me excited because I know that’s the feeling that I want and that I want all year.

“When you go play in events in curling clubs, and you don’t get that, I’m like ‘this sucks.’”

After starting with a 2-2 record, Gushue’s foursome that includes second E.J. Harnden won six games in a row.

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Bottcher, the 2021 Brier champion, shook hands after giving up a steal of one in both the eight and ninth ends Saturday.

Alberta’s skip missed a tricky double trying to score three in the eighth. He missed an attempted triple takeout in the ninth in front of a tournament-high 5,637 at the Brandt Centre.

“I thought in the first half we definitely had a few chances,” Bottcher said. “We gave up a couple of deuces. He kept the lead on the scoreboard. As the game went on, we had to take a little bit more risk.”

Sunday’s winner represents Canada at the men’s world championship March 30 to April 7 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and returns to the 2025 Montana’s Brier in Kelowna, B.C., as defending champion.

The victor also banks a berth in the 2025 Olympic trials pending a top-six result in Switzerland.

A revitalized McEwen has been good for Saskatchewan’s chances of ending a 43-year-old drought.

Recruited last year by Colton Flasch, Kevin Marsh and Daniel Marsh to skip them as their out-of-province import, they were two wins from becoming the first Saskatchewan team to win a Brier since Rick Folk’s in 1980.

McEwen’s hit against three Dunstone counters for the winning point in the 10th end drew a standing ovation.

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“It’s going to go down as one of my best memories ever in my whole career, no matter how this ends,” said the 43-year-old from Winnipeg.

A Saskatchewan team hasn’t reached a final since Brad Heidt lost to Kerry Burtnyk in 1995. The Marsh twins were born in Regina and Flasch in Biggar.

“Our goal coming in here was to be there in the final game on Sunday,” Kevin said. “It’s something we’ve talked about and thought about, and it’s in our goals, right? This is where we expect to be and if we play really well, I think we’ll be in a good spot come Sunday.”

&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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