Fans packed the Conception Bay South Arena Tuesday night, mainly in hopes of seeing Brad Gushue win.
And that’s what they got as Gushue and his St. John’s rink opened play at the Boost National with a 6-2 win over Scott McDonald of Kingston, Ont.
It was one of four games in the first draw of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event.
Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker actually trailed 2-1 through five ends, but after scoring two with the hammer in the sixth to take the lead and energize the fans, the home-province favourites followed up with a steal of one in the seventh and two more stolen points in the eighth and final end as McDonald’s last-rock attempt at a circus shot didn’t come off.
“It was quiet in here, but obviously that deuce in six, getting the steal in seven and making a few shots in eight, too, you could feel the crowd was a little bit more into it,” Gushue told Sportsnet’s Jonathan Brazeau. “The first five ends, (the McDonald rink) didn’t really give us much of a chance to get the crowd in the game.”
There are four draws today at the National, with start times of 9 a.m., noon, 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Gushue plays his second game of the event in the late draw when he takes on Matt Dunstone’s Regina rink. Dunstone also played Tuesday, losing 8-6 to defending Canadian men’s champion Kevin Koe of Calgary, who needed an extra end for the victory.
There are 30 teams — 15 men’s and 15 women’s entries — in the National, which has a total prize purse of $300,000. Round-robin play continues through Friday, leading into playoff quarter-finals Saturday.
The field is separated into five-team pools. Gushue is slotted with Dunstone, McDonald, Koe and defending champion Ross Paterson of Scotland.
The Gushue rink doesn’t provide the only Newfoundland representation at the event.
Julie Devereaux, who normally curls with the Erica Curtis rink at he Re/Max Centre in St. John’s, is filling in and throwing first stones for the Casey Scheidegger rink out of Lethbridge, Alta., which defeated No. 1 women’s seed Kerri Einarson of Winnipeg 8-6, also in an extra end.
That team’s regular lead, Kristie Moore, is acting as skip this week as Scheidegger is on maternity leave.
There’s another fill-in lead with a local connection. That’s Edmonton’s Laura Walker, who is married to Gushue’s lead. She is playing with the Jennifer Jones rink from Winnipeg in place of an ailing Dawn McEwen, who didn’t make the trip to Newfoundland.
Jones lost 6-5 to Satsuki Fujisawa of Japan on Tuesday. Again it was an extra-end result, and again it was decided by stolen points. Jones led 5-1 after four ends, but the Fujisawa rink did all the rest of scoring, including stealing the last three points, and did it despite being shorthanded. The team’s lead, Yurika Yoshida, is also sick and not playing this week.
Steals — and more precisely, important stolen points — were very much the order of the night. Scheidegger’s winning points in the extra end also came via a steal.
Given that temperatures in the metro area soared into double digits on a very rainy Tuesday, it would be easy to wonder if the weather affected the ice and scoring patterns at the C.B.S. Arena, but Gushue, who had the added challenge of playing on an outside sheet close to the warmth of the fans who crowded the facility, though things held up well.
“We thought the frost would creep in a little bit more and affect the rocks a little bit more,” he told Brazeau. “We still had to be a little worried about it and cautious, but overall, the ice was really good.
“I’m a little concerned about (Wednesday), with all of the (games), but certainly tonight it was definitely playable.”