Brad Gushue walked a curling tightrope at the Canadian men’s championship Monday night and kept his balance long enough to remain undefeated and move alone into first place.
Gushue removed Brad Jacob’s shot rock in the four-foot ring with the final stone of an extra end to claim the 9-8 victory over Northern Ontario.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s late game moved them into first place at 5-0 followed by Ontario’s Glenn Howard at 4-0. Jacob was tied at 4-1 with Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard as the Tim Hortons Brier neared the halfway mark of the 11-game round-robin tournament.
Gushue grabbed a quick 3-0 lead in the first end and then quickly went into a defensive shell trying to maintain the lead for a full 10 ends.
Gushue was content to exchange single points through the game until a lapse in the fifth end allowed Jacob to score two points and close the gap.
A series of mistakes in the eighth end allowed Jacobs to score another two points after third Brett Gallant missed a peel-weight takeout of a corner guard and Gushue didn’t get deep enough into the rings on his final stone to prevent Northern Ontario from getting the pair.
Jacobs erred in the ninth end by missing a takeout and instead ticked a Newfoundland stone in the four-foot. Gushue planted a stone on the opposite side of the centre line in the top four only to watch Jacobs draw to the button with a tiny gap between each of the Newfoundland rocks.
Gushue brilliantly picked the Jacobs stone off the button to score a much-needed two points.
Jacobs made a stunning hit and roll to freeze to the Newfoundland shot rock in the four-foot in the 10th end. Gushue could have secured the game by making his own freeze on top of Jacobs’ stone but was heavy on his draw and ended up in the back eight-foot.
Jacobs tapped his own stone that pushed the Newfoundland rock far enough for Northern Ontario to score two and tie the game forcing an eleventh end.
Newfoundland’s conservative play after taking the big first-end lead is common strategy for high-level teams, said Ryan Fry, the Northern Ontario third and former Gushue teammate.
“All the top teams in this league will try to defend that lead. It’s the same thing we did against Kevin,” Fry said about Northern Ontario’s major upset of Alberta’s Kevin Martin earlier Monday.
“We were just clawing tooth and nail to stay in it,” Gushue said. “The guys on Brad’s team really picked it up in the second half.”
“You’ve got to execute real good when you play that (defensive) strategy and we didn’t do that in the second half. … It was scary there in the last end,” Gushue said. “It was a nervy game where we didn’t have our best and the last five (ends) we had no momentum. To win that was nice.