The chances of one member of Brad Gushue’s world men’s champion curling rink getting to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games increased Thursday.
That’s because Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker have all made it to the playoffs round at the Canadian Olympic mixed doubles trials in Portage la Prairie, Man.
Eight of the teams in the 18-entry trials advanced to the playoffs, including the first- and second-place teams in each of two nine-team pools, along with the next four teams in the overall standings.
Teams featuring Gushue front-enders Gallant and Walker each went undefeated in the round robin. Gallant and Jocelyn Peterman topped one pool at 8-0, while Walker and Laura Crocker led the other with a similar record.
Mark Nichols and Jennifer Jones finished at 6-2 and were second to Gallant and Peterman in Pool A, while Gushue and Val Sweeting needed to down Charley Thomas and Kalynn Park in the final preliminary draw Thursday night to improve their record to 5-3 in Pool B, good enough to secure one of the final four playoff spots.
The mixed doubles teams featuring the Gushue rinkmates were particularly strong over the last two days of the round robin. In total, they played 22 games Wednesday and Thursday, going 20-2 in that stretch. What’s more, the only two losses came Thursday as the result head-to-head matchups involving members of the Gushue team.
One saw Gallant and Peterman defeat Nichols and Jones 9-6. The other had Walker and Crocker taking on Gushue and Sweeting in what proved to be a doozy.
Walker and Crocker came back from a six-point deficit — the largest rally so far at these trials, They trailed Sweeting and Gushue 6-0 after two ends, but persevered to win 9-8 with a steal in an extra end.
It was the second thrilling win in as many days by Crocker and Walker, who scored four in the final end to rally for an 11-10 victory over Kaitlyn Laws and John Morris late Wednesday night.
Gushue and Sweeting had to fashion their own comeback win — albeit not quite as dramatic — to book their spot in the playoffs. They trailed Park and Thomas 3-0 after two ends late Thursday, but rallied for a 10-5 victory, in large part through five stolen points.
Interestingly, Gushue and Sweeting will face Walker and Crocker again today in the first round of the playoffs, which are using a modified double-knockout format.
Peterman and Gallant have to wait to find out who they’ll take on in the opening round. Their opponents will be the winner of a tiebreaker to determine which team earns the eighth and final spot. That game sees Chelsea Carey and Colin Hodgson facing Nancy Martin and Catlin Schneider
In other first-round matchups, Jones/Nichols take on Jill Officer/Reid Carruthers, and Dana Ferguson/Brendan Bottcher are up against Kaitlyn Lawes/John Morris.
The winner of the tournament will represent Canada when mixed curling doubles makes its debut at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games next month.