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Undefeated Gushue glides to top playoff spot at Tour Challenge

THUNDER BAY, Ont. — It’s smooth sailing for Team Brad Gushue as the St. John’s, N.L., crew took the No. 1 seed for the Tour Challenge men’s playoffs.

The defending champions wrapped up round-robin play as the lone undefeated men’s squad following a 6-3 victory Friday night over Scotland’s Team Ross Paterson at the sold-out Tournament Centre.

With the score tied 3-3 after six, Team Gushue sparked in the seventh stanza with lead Geoff Walker, second Brett Gallant and third Mark Nichols executing excellently to set up a potentially big end. That was deflated somewhat with Gushue missing his first skip stone, however, he recovered on his last to hit for a game-breaking three points.

“Even with me missing my first they were still in a really tough spot,” Gushue said. “Kudos to my team for executing so well on the first six shots. Geoff put two perfect rocks in there and then Brett made two good ones, Mark made two good ones and I missed my first. Made a good one on my last for three. It was a very well-played end and that was certainly the difference.”

It might be deja vu as Gushue (4-0) posted a perfect record winning the championship a year ago when the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event was held in Regina. The 11-time GSOC title winner is in good standing holding the hammer to start Saturday’s quarterfinals as well as through the rest of the playoffs should his team advance.

“Knowing that you’re going to have hammer in each game of the playoffs is a nice feeling,” Gushue said. “I thought we got better with each game in the round-robin but it was a little sloppy in that game. Sometimes when you go 3-0, you know you’re going to be in playoffs, you’re probably not as up for the game as you should be but I thought we played well.

“I thought we put some pressure on them but Ross’s team made some good shots. It looked like the seventh end we might score a sixer or so but obviously, I missed my first one and we only got three. Three in that situation means you’re going to win the game 99 percent of the time.”

“I’m not too worried about going undefeated but certainly we’d like to defend and like to win another Grand Slam,” he added. “We put ourselves in a good position having the hammer and that’s the big thing when we get through the round-robin. When you can get that hammer, obviously your odds of winning each game improves. I’m glad we have that now in the playoffs but we’ve got to get through the quarterfinals first.”

Paterson was eliminated with the loss holding a 1-3 record.

Team Gushue awaits the winner between the morning tiebreaker match between Regina’s Team Matt Dunstone and Team Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont. Dunstone (2-2) scored a 5-4 win over Switzerland’s Peter de Cruz (3-1) in order to guarantee another game for his club.

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Meanwhile, Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe qualified straight through with a 2-2 record thanks to a superior pre-game draw-to-the-button tally over Dunstone and Howard. Koe clawed into the seventh seed with a conservative 3-1 victory over Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

It’ll be a battle of gold medallists with 2014 Winter Games champ Jacobs taking on reigning Olympic champ Team John Shuster of the United States in the quarterfinals (both finished at 3-1). Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher (3-1) battles Team Rich Ruohonen (3-1) of the U.S., and Koe clashes with De Cruz in the other men’s quarterfinal matches (4 p.m. ET; Watch on Sportsnet East, West, Pacific & SN 360).

There are no tiebreakers on the women’s side with the top eight straight through. Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan (4-0) faces Edmonton’s Team Laura Walker (2-2), Team Tracy Fleury (4-0) of East St. Paul, Man., plays Winnipeg’s Team Darcy Robertson (2-2), Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones (3-1) collides with Team Nina Roth (3-1) of the U.S., and Team Kerri Einarson (3-1) of Gimli, Man., goes up against Switzerland’s Team Silvana Tirinzoni (2-2). The women’s quarterfinals go down at Noon ET; watch on Sportsnet Ontario & SN ONE.

The semifinals are set for Saturday evening (8 p.m. ET; Sportsnet 360) with the finals scheduled for Sunday (Noon ET and 4 p.m. ET; Sportsnet).

The Tour Challenge is the third event of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season and features the largest field in the series with 60 teams split into two tiers of action. Tier 1 includes 15 of the top men’s teams and 15 of the top women’s teams from around the world. Both Tier 2 divisions are composed of the next 10 teams ranked on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit plus five teams from within the event’s region.

NOTES: Winners of the Tour Challenge Tier 1 earn $20,000 of the $200,000 total purse plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup event. … Points are also up for grabs in the Tier 1 division towards the Pinty’s Cup, which is awarded to season champions following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April. … Tier 2 winners earn the opportunity to move up the ranks receiving invitations to the 2019 Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, Sask.