By Brian McAndrew
Special to The Telegram—Edmonton
Winning big at the Tim Horton’s Brier means never having to feel sorry for the losing team.
Brad Gushue’s Newfoundland and Labrador squashed Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming 10-2 Saturday in the opening game of the Canadian men’s championship.
Gushue’s inexperienced team played like solid veterans while Flemming and Ian Fitzner-Leblanc struggled to get control of their game on the unique type of ice created for this level of competition at Rexall Place.
“I’m very happy with how the guys played,” Gushue said about third Brett Gallant, second Adam Casey and lead Geoff Walker.
“I thought they were throwing it really well. I thought they had a great attitude -- very well composed -- especially Brett in his first game in the Brier,” Gushue said.
Gushue took advantage of some erratic Nova Scotia play to score five points in the sixth end and steal a game-ending three points in the seventh.
With Gushue sitting three partially-guarded rocks clustered in the four-foot ring, Fitzner attempted a high-risk ricochet off of a Nova Scotia stone sitting on the edge of the rings in an attempt to send his own rock into the pocket and score a single point.
Instead, his rock failed to curl far enough and he pushed the Newfoundland stone into scoring position. Gushue made an easy draw on his final shot to score five.
“We played a good end,” Gushue said. “We kind of let them off the hook on one of Brett’s (shots) and they didn’t capitalize. They ticked a guard and we were able to get a third one in there. He played a Hail Mary and we had an open draw for five. That was kind of nice.”
“Fitzy was in the mood to go for that in-off and it just tracked (straight) a little on him. It was a gamble and it didn’t pay off,” Flemming said. “It did look kind of delicious. There was actually an opportunity to steal one. It wasn’t a bad option.”
The other option was to hit and remove a couple of the Newfoundland rocks and give Gushue no more than a pair of points.
Frustration may have played a role in Flemming’s decision.
“That might have been part of it. It would have been a nice way to turn that game around. Who knows? We might have gotten some momentum after that,” Flemming said.
Playing on arena ice – something the Nova Scotia team doesn’t do often – requires players to release the stones differently from playing in a curling club and it wreaked havoc on their game.
Nova Scotia managed to rub guards, come up light in draw shots and pitch rocks so far off line they never had a chance of getting to where they were supposed to go.
Fitzner-Leblanc was so wide on his final shot of the seventh end that it floated to a stop on the outside of a Newfoundland stone giving Gushue the three-point steal.
Does Gushue ever feel sympathy playing a team that struggles so badly? (Fitzner-Leblanc’s shooting accuracy was rated at 55 per cent with Gushue at 88 per cent.)
“Never,” he declared. “I’ve been on the other side of that and I don’t feel sorry for them. When you’re out there, you’re out there to win and score as many points as possible.
“You hate to see someone struggle,” he said, “but you don’t want to take any sympathy because as soon as you do then you give up a three and you’re out there a little bit longer.”
Gushue got on the scoreboard with an odd looking shot in the second end when he tossed an up-weight draw to come between two guards and roll off his own shot rock and up against a Nova Scotia stone to score two.
“I knew if I got through with kind of hack-ish weight I knew we’d get two,” Gushue said. “We squeaked through the hole and it worked out well. It may not have looked pretty on TV but it’s what we were trying.”
Meanwhile, Gallant collected $1,000 for placing third in the Ford Hot Shots skills competition that kicks off the Tim Hortons Brier.
“I could have used the car. My ’98 Civic is getting kind of old,” Gallant said.
Alberta second Marc Kennedy won the contest and the two-year lease on a Ford Fusion.
“It was fun,” Gallant said. “It’s nice getting out there and playing in front of people. It takes some of the pressure away from playing the first game.
His plans for his winnings included “taking my sweepers out to dinner.”