NORTH BAY, Ont. — Brad Gushue has found his groove again advancing to his first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling men’s final in over a year.
Team Gushue, from St. John’s, N.L., eliminated Toronto’s Team John Epping 7-5 in Saturday night’s Masters semifinals to book a spot in Sunday’s championship game at Memorial Gardens.
Gushue last played in a final in the premier curling series when he captured his 11th Grand Slam at the Princess Auto Elite 10 in September 2018.
“It feels great,” said Gushue, who also earned a huge 6-2 win over Team Bottcher earlier Saturday in the quarterfinals. “A lot of tough losses over the last year in Slams. We grinded out two wins today, which was awesome.
“I think our team has gotten better as the week has gone on. We’ve still got some improving to do. We had a few sloppy shots out there but I thought we made a bunch of key shots, which is something we haven’t been doing for the last year.”
Gushue was also the fortunate recipient of a couple of lucky breaks. Epping whiffed on a double takeout attempt in the fourth end allowing Gushue to draw for three points and take a 5-2 lead at the break. The defending champion Epping also missed one of his bread-and-butter angle raises in the seventh that could have resulted in a multiple score but ended up as just a single giving Gushue a one-point lead and the hammer coming home.
“Right now with the ice curling as much as it is, there were a few picks out there, you’ve got to hope you limit those,” Gushue said. “Really, the key is if you can get to the point where you’re throwing big-weight shots later in the game as opposed to those finesse ones, you’re in good shape.
“Luckily for us, we’ve been able to get a lead early and keep our weight up, which is reducing some of those picks and some of those little ones that just start breaking when you don’t expect it. Hopefully, we can do that and we get off to a great start tomorrow. …
“I don’t think we’re going to have hammer so we’re going to have to grind it out for the first few ends and see if we can wrestle that back.”
While Gushue has won double-digit titles and has competed in 19 finals in total, it’s the first time Matt Dunstone has reached this stage in his young career.
“I still don’t really have words for it,” Dunstone said after his Regina-based squad stopped Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat 5-4. “You always kind of dream of this moment and it hasn’t really soaked in yet. I know we’ve got some flight changes to make now but for sure the right reasons this time.
“It’s going to be a blast. I think just to be able to soak in the moment and enjoy it. You never know when you’re going to get back. I mean, it’s the 15 best teams in the world, it’s an unreal field and you never know how the chips are going to lie, so this is our turn and we’re just going to try and enjoy this.”
The 24-year-old skip from Winnipeg has shot the lights out all week long and made a crucial pistol through a tiny port to score two points in the fourth end.
It was a case of the third time being the charm as Dunstone said he had the same port twice during his team’s group game against Niklas Edin and missed them both.
“We hit the outside guard the first time and the inside guard the second time, so we thought that we were due to make it through that port at some point,” Dunstone said. “We knew exactly how to make the shot. All you can really do is just throw it well, sweep it right and hope. I mean obviously a big turning point in the game. It’s just so fun to be a part of this.”
Mouat, who had entered the semifinals undefeated at 5-0, wrecked on his last in the fifth end to hand Dunstone another pair of points and a 4-1 lead.
The 2017 BOOST National champion battled back with a deuce in six and a steal of one in seven to tie it up, but Mouat had nowhere to hide after his last in eight. Dunstone hadn’t missed much all week and made no mistake on the open hit for the win.
“Just get to that eighth end with the hammer, that was the main thing. Just get some sort of shot for the win,” Dunstone said. “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. It’s certainly helped me in moments like these.
“I think maybe even in this moment it’s just so surreal that I was oblivious to it all, so maybe I’ve got that going for me a little bit. Just a shot to win the game.”
Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, Man., will meet Japan’s Team Sayaka Yoshimura in the women’s final after both took down undefeated titans in the division.
Fleury ousted defending champions Team Anna Hasselborg of Sweden 7-5 and Yoshimura bounced reigning world gold medallists Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland 7-4.
“They were making a ton of shots, playing really well and getting their rocks in good places,” Fleury said after the semifinals. “We were just trying to keep up and we put some pressure on them, especially in the sixth end. I’d say that was the turning point.”
The Sudbury native Fleury plays in her third career Grand Slam final as she looks to lock down her first title in the series close to home. Team Fleury third Selena Njegovan, second Liz Fyfe and lead Kristin MacCuish won the 2016 BOOST National with skip Kerri Einarson.
“It feels really good, especially being so close to home too,” Fleury said. “Being able to play in front of family and friends makes it extra special. The third final for me, so still waiting for a win. The girls had won one before but I never have, so it’s a big game tomorrow.”
Team Yoshimura became the first women’s club from Asia to reach a Grand Slam championship game and just the second overall after Team Chang-Min Kim of South Korea finished runner-up in the 2017 BOOST National men’s final.
“They’re playing really well right now,” Fleury said. “They just keep improving, keep getting better. They’re really nice girls too, we’ve played them a few times on tour. Both teams are going to have to play really well tomorrow. I think it’s going to be a great game.”
Either way, someone in the Njegovan household wins as Selena’s husband Connor coaches Team Yoshimura.
Both finals are rematches of earlier round-robin games with Dunstone defeating Gushue 5-4 on opening night and Yoshimura beating Fleury 5-4 Thursday.
“He made a bunch against us on Tuesday night when we played him and I think he curled 94 percent against us so he was really solid,” Gushue said. “He’s been up near the top of the skips all week so you know he’s going to make some shots. Hopefully, we can apply some pressure on him and leave him some more difficult shots.”
Experience in the finals may give Gushue the edge, although Team Dunstone third Braeden Moskowy won the 2016 Humpty’s Champions Cup and was a finalist at the 2016 BOOST National with skip Reid Carruthers.
“How many people beat Gushue twice in a weekend, right?” Dunstone said. “I’m definitely not the favourite in the game. He’s been there, done that what … 11 Slams. Mosky’s got the one for us, so he’s got us beat by 10.
“It’s going to be a fun game, just go play with nothing to lose. Enjoy that moment. If it’s meant to be it’s going to be, just play well. If Gushue outplays us then I can totally live with that.”
The finals are scheduled for Sunday at Memorial Gardens with the women’s game at Noon ET (Sportsnet and CBC) followed by the men’s match at 4:30 p.m. ET (Sportsnet East, Ontario and Pacific).
NOTES: The Masters is the first of six Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events on the season and one of four majors in the series. … The total prize purse is $300,000 and is split evenly between the men’s and women’s divisions. Winners receive $35,000 plus berths towards the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup taking place April 29 to May 3, 2020, in Olds, Alta. … Also up for grabs at the Masters are Pinty’s Cup bonus points. The leaders following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April will capture the Pinty’s Cup with additional prize money awarded.