London, Ont. — Advantage Brad Gushue in the battle of the Olympic titans at the Tim Hortons Brier.
Gushue hammered Kevin Martin 9-4 Monday night, bringing the Alberta skip’s Brier winning streak to a halt at 30 games.
After Monday’s eighth draw, Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton held first place at 5-0, followed by three other top playoff contenders — Gushue’s Newfoundland and Labrador champs, Martin and Ontario’s Glenn Howard — all tied at 4-1.
For a while, it looked as if neither of the Olympic gold medallists — Gushue in 2006 and Martin last year — wanted to claim superiority in the their encounter at the national men’s curling championship at the John Labatt Centre.
“It was a real big win,” Gushue said. “I felt I had a better read on the ice. It was still a little bit tricky, but it was a 100 per cent improvement.
“It’s a big boost to the confidence.”
“That was tough. For Brad, too,” Martin said. “We had trouble finding the right line, but Brad made a dandy (shot) on the last one.
“If someone curls better than us, it’s OK to lose.”
Gushue scraped past a long guard on the final shot of the eighth end and bumped an Alberta stone from the four-foot ring to score three points, prompting Martin to concede.
The shooting on both sides wasn’t always that precise.
With last rock to start the game, Gushue couldn’t blank the first end and took a single point. Martin was heavy on a draw in the second end, giving the Newfoundland and Labrador rink, which also includes Mark Nichols, Ryan Fry and Jamie Danbrook, two stolen points. Martin failed on a tap in the third, allowing Gushue another steal of one.
After a blank fourth end, Gushue was unable to roll from a take-out far enough in the top eight-foot ring to prevent Martin from striking his own stone on the side of the house to remove a Gushue rock and score Alberta’s first two points in the fifth.
It was Martin’s turn to err in the sixth. He came up short on a draw allowing Gushue a double-takeout to score two points.
Gushue rubbed a guard on his first stone of the seventh end, allowing Martin to make an easy takeout on his final shot to score a pair.
Gushue came into the Alberta game suffering a weight problem He was in his usual fighting trim, but having trouble landing his rocks where he wanted in the house.
“I’m struggling a little bit,” Gushue admitted after a fortuitous 7-6 victory against Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock on Monday morning..
Gushue has flubbed shots in the first couple of ends in every one off his first four games at this Brier.
The Saskatchewan game was no different, with Gushue coming up light on a draw in the first end and heavy in the second to hand the lead to Laycock, who plays skip while veteran Pat Simmons throws last rocks.
But Simmons did Gushue a huge favour when he crossed the hogline with his last rock of the third end. Instead of an intended double-takeout that would have left Gushue a tough shot against five opposing stones, the Simmons rock was removed from play.
Gushue was left with an easy draw for three points and Saskatchewan was left trailing the rest of the way.
“That was obviously the turning point,” said a shocked Simmons.
“Of all the thousands of rocks I’ve thrown with these (electronic) handles, that’s only the second time it’s happened.”
Lights on the handles of the Manitoba Curling Association-owned stones change from green to flashing red if a player fails to release the stone before the hogline.
“I owe him a beer,” said a relieved Gushue. “If he made that, we were in a world of hurt.”