Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue avoids Brier quagmire, nails down playoff spot with ‘nail-biter’ of a win over Quebec
Newfoundland/Labrador skip Brad Gushue acknowledges the crowd after scoring one in the tenth to beat Quebec 5-4 during the afternoon draw Friday, March 8, 2013, at the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier at Rexall Place in Edmonton. Photo by Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal
Photograph by: Ed Kaiser, Edmonton Journal
When Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue nailed a triple takeout in the ninth end of his match against Quebec on Friday, the elated skip delivered a major fist pump, and why not?
Even though Gushue still gave up a pair to Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard, which tied the Game 4-4, Newfoundland had last rock in the 10th end and were in good shape to clinch a playoff berth in one of the deepest fields at the Tim Hortons Brier in years.
In the end, Gushue’s 5-4 victory did just that. The win improved his team’s won-lost record to 8-3, but that sparkling resume still left him unsure of his pathway through the playoffs, pending Friday night’s outcomes.
At that moment, the only skip sure of his route to Sunday’s final was Ontario’s Glenn Howard, sitting with an imperious smile on his face at 10-0 with a final-draw game against Alberta’s Kevin Martin to come, his berth in the 1-2 Page Playoff game already assured.
Gushue was ecstatic merely to nail down a playoff spot, and never mind the other details.
“It was a nail-biter,” the 32-year-old Gushue said. “That pick (debris-affected stone) was almost disastrous.
“Fortunately, he left us an angle to get three of them out.
“When I made that, I felt pretty darn good.”
Organizers of tournaments like the Brier salivate at the thought of having the distribution of playoff spots come down to the final night of competition and, if possible, the final stones of the final end, in the bargain.
The curling honchos were drooling Friday, as a fiercely competitive round-robin wound down, with almost all options open, beyond the fates of Howard and Gushue.
The rest was up for grabs among Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario and Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba, both sitting at 7-3, with Menard and Martin both at 6-4, both needing a Friday night victory and the kindness of strangers to qualify to play on the weekend.
That business of needing help is a lousy feeling, one Martin experienced back in 2000 at the Brier in Saskatoon. He finished 6-5 in that one and missed the playoffs. He won games late in that Brier but didn’t get the help he needed.
“It’s not fun because you’re not in charge of your own destiny,” Martin said. “You’re waiting for stuff to happen.
“You can’t afford to stumble early, that’s the thing,” Martin said of faceplanting 1-4 to start the Brier. “And we did that.”
Here’s another thing, though. As Martin fashioned a five-game winning streak heading into his last of six must-win games, Gushue, Stoughton, Jacobs and Menard were backing up to him, keeping Alberta’s playoff hopes alive.
It made for compelling sporting theatre, hard as it was on the emotional well-being of skips like Gushue.
“To finally be on the right side of a very well-played game is nice,” said Gushue, who lost in succession to three-time champion Stoughton, defending champion Howard and four-time winner Martin before halting his late round-robin cannonball by edging an excellent Quebec team. “We probably played better in our last four than we did in the first seven.
“You know, we came up against Glenn with his best game of the week, we came up against Kevin with his best game of the week.
“And I would imagine that was one of Jean-Michel’s better games, too. It just seems like people are making a lot of shots against us.
“Fortunately, we’re making a lot of shots, too, to make them good.”
As Martin re-learned the hard way this week, it’s important to have assembled a cushion of victories before you have to play the heavyweights, one after the other.
It’s also crucial to maintain perspective as the losses pile up, to remember that you’re losing to the best in the business.
“Oh my God, no!” said Gushue, asked whether his team’s collective confidence had dipped at all in the last few games. “I like the way we’re playing.
“We can still sharpen up a little bit. We’re making a few little mistakes. But overall, we’re making some big shots, too, and playing pretty solid.”
Speaking of sharpening up, Martin’s rink was sitting third among all teams in shooting percentage with the final draw to come on Friday night.
Only Howard’s lights-out bunch, at 91 per cent, and Stoughton’s Manitoba rink, at 89 per cent, had performed better in the round-robin than Martin’s Alberta rink, which shot 93, 89, 93, 91 and 90 per cent during its five-game winning streak to get back into playoff contention.
Was it easier, at least, to focus and play the game in front of them, knowing they had no choice but to win? he was asked.
“No. I don’t think so,” he said. “I would rather be the front-runner and focusing and getting going.
“I like the position Glenn’s in much better than the one I’m in.
“But, what do you do? We put ourselves here.”
No wonder Gushue delivered that fist pump. He wanted nothing to do with the quagmire of possible tiebreakers if he could possibly avoid it.
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