RED DEER, Alta. — Defending champion Brendan Bottcher and his Calgary-based club are back in the Co-op Canadian Open men’s final and once again in their home province.
Team Bottcher, who captured the title a year ago up the road in Camrose, returned to the championship game with a 5-3 victory over Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., during Saturday’s semifinals at Servus Arena.
“It feels good,” said Brett Gallant, who throws second for Team Bottcher. “We’ve been playing pretty well the last few games. It seems like we’re kind of building and all four of us are starting to hit our stride here this week.
“It’s been a great atmosphere here in Red Deer and we’re just feeding off that energy, a little crowd behind us. The boys are playing pretty well. Brendan made a couple of big skip shots for us in the eighth end to seal that game for us.”
It was an evenly matched affair between the top two Canadian teams in the world rankings as they both shot in the 90s. Bottcher maintained control though with the hammer to start. After blanking the first three ends, his patience paid off in the fourth as he was able to line up an angle raise takeout and score a critical three points.
“We made a couple of good draws and put them in some tricky spots,” Gallant said. “Brad made a great draw, he basically got buried around one that was biting the four-foot on his last, and forced Brendan into an angle runback that he nailed for three. It was a big shot and a big turning point in the game.”
After the teams traded singles in five and six, Gushue drew for a deuce in seven to close within one. Still, that gave Bottcher the all-important hammer for the eighth end, and the skip executed a clutch draw against three counters to prevail.
It was a marathon day for Gushue, who went 2-2 through pool play and had to dispatch Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe 6-4 in an early morning tiebreaker just to qualify for the playoffs.
Bottcher will now take on Team Bruce Mouat, who also advanced with a 5-3 decision over Team Ross Whyte in an all-Scottish matchup.
Both Mouat and Bottcher are aiming for a sixth career Grand Slam men’s title, but Mouat could complete a career Grand Slam. Mouat has won the other three majors and is just missing the Co-op Canadian Open from his resume. Only five skips in the history of the series have achieved the feat in the men’s division with Gushue being the most recent in 2016. The other four — Kevin Martin, Wayne Middaugh, Glenn Howard and Jeff Stoughton — could form a Mount Rushmore of legends of the game.
It also a return to form for Team Mouat, who had missed the playoffs in four of the previous five Grand Slam of Curling events stretching back to last season.
“It’s nice,” Mouat said. “It’s been a while since we’ve been in one, so I’m quite excited to play tomorrow. We’re playing really well, it’s been a really good week and we’ve enjoyed the ice and enjoyed the atmosphere. These fans know how to cheer curling on, so it’s really nice to be a part of.”
Tied 2-2 in the sixth end, Mouat capitalized after Whyte hit and rolled out to score a deuce and gain some separation on the scoreboard. Whyte was forced to draw for just a single in the seventh and Mouat tacked on another point with the hammer coming home.
Meanwhile, it’ll be a rematch of the WFG Masters final on the women’s side between Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan and Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland.
To add to the similarities, Homan and Tirinzoni also beat the same teams to reach the Co-op Canadian Open final. Homan bounced Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones 8-3 and Tirinzoni took two in the eighth end to edge Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., 6-5.
Homan doubled up on Tirinzoni 8-4 last month to capture a record-extending 14th Grand Slam women’s championship.
The men’s final kicks off Championship Sunday at 12:30 p.m. ET / 10:30 a.m. MT followed by the women’s final at 5 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. MT. Watch on Sportsnet, Sportsnet+ (Canada) or gsoclive.com (international).