It’s become a great rivalry in hockey.
Could it become so in curling?
Brad Gushue and his Team Canada rink from St. John’s get another crack at the United States today when the two teams square off in the quarter-final round of the 2018 world men’s curling championship in Las Vegas.
Canada (9-3) finished third overall in the preliminary round and will be the top seed among the four quarter-final teams; Sweden and Scotland finished 11-1 and first and second, respectively, earning byes directly to the semifinals.
The United States, skipped by Minnesotan Rich Ruohonen, had to win five straight games, including a 5-3 decision over Switzerland in the final preliminary-round draw Friday night just to squeeze into the playoff picture. However, one of the wins in that streak came Thursday night when the home side defeated Canada 6-5.
But even though Gushue says he and teammates Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker haven’t been top-drawer throughout this week in Vegas, they will be carrying the confidence of defending champions into the game (1 p.m. NT).
“I think when the bell rings … and it's do or die, we're going to be going to come out and be tough to play against,” said Gushue. “We're still the best team in the world even though we're not at this point firing on all cylinders, but it can turn at any point.
“If it does turn tomorrow, we can win this thing. (We haven’t been able) to go as long as we have without being our best version of ourselves.”
It was a pretty good version on display Friday night as the Canadians closed out their round-robin schedule with an 8-1 win over Germany in a game that lasted just six ends, giving Gushue and Co. some extra rest before the game against the U.S.
Rest was also on the Canadians’ minds entering the contest as they used spare Tom Sallows at lead replacing Walker. Later in the game, Walker came back in and took over at second for Gallant, who moved up to third in place of Nichols, who got a break for a couple of ends.
“The key thing was just to get a little bit of rest … give Geoff a few ends and Mark a few ends,” Gushue explained.
“It was nice to finish this game off early and get an extra hour of rest. (The quarter-final) going to be a big game. We're going to be ready, well-rested and looking forward to it.”
Gushue will have last-rock advantage in the first end against Ruohonen.
“If we play our best … these teams are going to have to be at their best to keep up,” Gushue said. “When they go to bed tonight, they're going to have to think about that.
“It can be daunting knowing that if we go out and play our best, they're probably not going to have a chance.”
Norway's Steffen Walstad and South Korea's ChangMin Kim (7-5) meet in the other quarter-final.
If Gushue and his rinkmates beat the Americans they will face Bruce Mouat and the Scots in the semifinal round (8 p.m. NT today).
The final is Sunday.
Scotland handed the Canadians one of their losses, prevailing 8-7 on the second day of competition.
Gushue’s other defeat came Friday morning when he and his team lost 6-5 to Edin and Sweden, a result that ended any Canadian hopes for a top-two finish and a bye past the quarter-finals.
In that one, the Swedes jumped out to a 3-0 lead after the first end, but despite the tough start, Canada played a strong game it what might be seen as a confidence-building loss.
“We put some pressure on (Edin) in a number of ends,” Gushue said. “I thought we played well. I liked everything about it other than the start.”
Last year in Edmonton, the Gushue rink breezed through the competition, going 13-0 in claiming the title. That’s not going to happen in Las Vegas, where they will be taking a longer route in defence of their crown. But the team takes some solace in knowing they won nine of 12 games without being consistently at their best.
“Obviously, it’s been a little bit of a struggle, in our minds, but if you look at our numbers, we’re still shooting pretty well, and we’ve obviously had a lot of teams bring their ‘A’ games against us,” said Walker. “But I think we’ve built some pretty good momentum.
“I think we’re all looking forward to getting out there and showing everybody what we’re made of. You haven’t seen that yet. There have been glimpses, but not a full game.”
With files from The Canadian Press and Curling Canada