The only thing better than watching Brad Gushue play Glenn Howard in the preliminary round of the Canadian men’s curling championship would be to watch the pair square off in the championship final.
The Newfoundland and Labrador skip and the Tim Hortons Brier defending champion from Ontario met Thursday in an epic battle of intense curling skills that came down to the very last shot before Howard claimed the 6-5 win.
It left Howard undefeated and alone in first place while Gushue lost his second in a row and desperately in need of a win in one of his final two games Friday to ensure an entry in the playoffs without possibly falling into a tie-breaking game for the fourth spot.
Still, Gushue remained near the top of the tournament at 7-2, while Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton, who handed Newfoundland its first loss on Wednesday, improved to 7-1 after a 6-5 win over Jamie Grattan of New Brunswick.
The win left Howard ecstatic after his first serious test this week, but even Gushue was enthusiastic despite the disappointment of taking the loss.
“It was a great curling game. It was just unfortunate we were on the wrong side,” Gushue said. “It was fun seeing those shots being made. They were being made just perfect. It was one of the better curling games I’ve been involved in, in a long time.”
Newfoundland had a sluggish start, allowing Ontario to open a lead, then struggling back to tie the game three times.
“We had a couple of mistakes early that wasted ends,” Gushue said. “I wouldn’t say it cost us. If the game went 12 ends we might have had a better chance. It seems like we had bit of momentum on our side towards the end of the game. You have to take advantage of every single chance they give you and they don’t give you very many.”
Howard made a single mistake all game. In the seventh end, he had an easy take-out to score two points but his rock rolled out of play and he managed just a single.
The key moments came in the dramatic ninth end when the advantage went back and forth from shot-to-shot with plenty of rocks in play until Gushue made a precise draw to the button for one point to tie the game at 5-5.
It started with Newfoundland second Adam Casey planting his rock in the four-foot ring and well-guarded by a Newfoundland rock on the centre line.
Ontario third Wayne Middaugh rubbed the guard trying to freeze to the Casey stone and his rock slid to the edge of the four-foot.
Newfoundland third Brett Gallant punched the Ontario stone out of play, but rolled the wrong way into the eight-foot giving Middaugh a second chance to make the freeze.
Middaugh made no mistake the second time. Gushue responded by making a double-bump of a pair of rocks and pushed a Newfoundland stone onto the button.
Howard managed to crowd the four-foot with another freeze to a Newfoundland stone. Gushue once again raised a stone from out front onto one of his own stones to move it in the vicinity of the button.
See ONE GOOD SHOT, page C2
Howard answered by throwing a light-weight takeout that slipped between two guards and bumped a pair of Newfoundland stones to the back of the four-foot. Two Ontario stones sat guarded in the top of the four-foot rings. Gushue had just a sliver of the button exposed and managed to reach it for the single point.
“We played a good game but we came up against a great team,” Gushue said. “It seemed like every time we’d make a good shot ,they’d just cap it with another one. The ninth end was a perfect example. I made a honey of a shot on my first and he comes down and equals it.” “I thought that was a hell of a curling game,” Howard said. “I don’t care what anyone says; there were eight great curlers out there. It was a fun game to play. It was a fun game to watch. We won by a couple inches. That was the difference in the game.”
Newfoundland plays its final games today against Alberta’s Kevin Martin and Jean-Michel Menard of Quebec.