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Eight Ends: Early observations from the 2020 Brier

Eight Ends is your source for news, notes, insight, and analysis from around the curling world. This week’s edition looks at takeaways from the start of the Tim Hortons Brier in Kingston, Ont.

1st End: Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher has rolled out of the station on the right track chugging along to a 5-0 start. Bottcher, who has earned silver medals at the past two Briers, has been a tank engine putting up outstanding marks in crucial victories over Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Brad Gushue shooting 98 percent and 100 percent, respectively. It’s full steam ahead for the Edmonton-based group.

2nd End: Over in the other pool, Mike McEwen’s Wild Card squad (4-1) is playing as sharp as lead Colin Hodgson’s haircut. Winning Friday night’s play-in game against Glenn Howard to sneak into the Brier kick-started their momentum and also may have given them a head-start on ice conditions. Whatever it is, it’s working with third Reid Carruthers, in particular, playing impressively. Carruthers has brought his A-game shooting 91 percent to top all players at his position.

3rd End: Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador is looking good, too, sporting a 4-1 record. Gushue’s lone loss came against Bottcher, but then he’s not alone in that category with everyone else also losing to Bottcher so far. The two-time Brier champion Gushue looked like he was in deep trouble Monday night against Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs giving up four points off the bat but rallied right back responding with a three-ender and capped the thriller scored two in the 10th for the gritty 7-6 win.

4th End: Ontario’s John Epping (3-2) raced out of the gate with a 6-3 win in the opening draw against defending champion Kevin Koe but has cooled down a bit sustaining back-to-back losses including a 7-4 upset loss Monday night to New Brunswick’s James Grattan. Just more proof that anything can happen at the Brier. 

5th End: After the loss to Epping, Koe got right back into the mix replying with four straight wins. Koe stepped up his game with shot percentages of 95, 100, 95 again and 93 in those victories. And how about that triple takeout to score the winning deuce against McEwen? Sick.

6th End: Manitoba’s Jason Gunnlaugson is a Brier “rookie” in name only. The 35-year-old tour veteran from Winnipeg has been waiting for this moment to shine and seized another highlight-reel moment with a double raise, double takeout to score three points Tuesday morning to complete a 7-6 comeback victory over Prince Edward Island’s Bryan Cochrane. Don’t underestimate this squad.

7th End: Speaking of ridiculous runbacks, Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone (4-1) also pulled off a shot-of-the-year candidate with a triple takeout to score four in the final frame Monday morning and win 9-8 over British Columbia’s Steve Laycock. It’s no surprise Dunstone has sports psychologist Adam Kingsbury on the bench this week. Dunstone spoke earlier this season during the Masters about how he’s been working on the mental side of the game to remain calm in high-pressure situations. 

“I’ve been doing some exercises over the summer just to cool heart rate and that sort of thing in those moments because it’s been a part where I’ve struggled in my game a little bit,” Dunstone said en route to capturing his first career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title. “It’s certainly helped me in moments like these.”

8th End: Did anyone expect to see No. 1 seed Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario start at 1-3? A front-loaded schedule put them in an early hole and twice they lost on the final shots. Yes, it’s still early, and they’ve improved to 2-3 now, but with three losses it already means they’ve left little-to-no margin for error going forward and will likely have to win out. An 8-3 record is typically what’s needed in order to make the Page playoffs. Of course, one step at a time as at this point just getting into the Championship Round is the first hurdle to worry about clearing.