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Undefeated Gushue takes top seed, bye to Champions Cup semifinals

Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., have had their duds in order all week and are heaving away into the Humpty’s Champions Cup semifinals.

Gushue wrapped up round-robin play with an unblemished 4-0 record cooling Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat with a thrilling 7-4 victory Saturday night at Calgary’s WinSport Arena. The victory gave the 11-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling men’s champion Gushue the No. 1 seed and a bye past the quarterfinals.

Both teams qualified for the playoffs earlier but left it all on the line in the entertaining game with a curling clinic of highlight-reel shots.

“I have to imagine it was a pretty good game to watch on TV,” Gushue said. “A lot of interesting ends and a lot of good shots made. Hopefully, the fans enjoyed it.” 

Lead Geoff Walker won the draw to the button shootout for Team Gushue, which guaranteed at least one of the semifinal spots. From there it was a matter of staying one step ahead to get the victory and ensure they’d hold the hammer to start through the playoffs as well.

“Hammer is a big part,” Gushue said. “If we were 3-1 facing another 3-1 team, obviously, there’s a draw to the button to start the game. With a 4-0 record now, we know hopefully with both games in the playoffs — if we make it to the final — we’ll have the hammer, so that’s a bonus.”  

The game was massive for Mouat, who entered the match undefeated as well and went from potentially grabbing the top spot to finishing fourth overall at 3-1. Mouat now enters the quarterfinals on a downer and takes on Sweden’s Team Niklas Edin in a rematch of the world men’s championship final exactly one week ago.

“For them I think after the draw to the button it meant more,” Gushue said. “We already knew we had second, so once Geoff made his draw to the button, we were pretty pumped because we knew what we had to do and were able to execute that. That was like a win for us but then the bonus was hammer and that was all we were focusing on and trying to win that game.

“For Bruce to drop down to Niklas, that’s a tough match but anybody or any team that makes the playoffs is going to be a tough game. Whether it’s Niklas Edin or Kevin Koe or Brad Jacobs or whoever it is, it’s going to be a challenge.” 

It was a textbook start for Gushue, who opened with the hammer and fired a big-weight shot to bounce in and up to shake up the messy house and convert for a deuce. Gushue forced Mouat to a single in the second and took two more points in the third to go up 4-1.

“It was there if you threw it really hard,” Gushue said. “Unlike most teams out there, I don’t love to throw it that hard. I’d much rather make a nice little draw to the button or put a rock in a very precise spot. That’s what excites me. Occasionally when you get those, I can ramp it up and get it down there. I thought I threw that really well and we called the line perfectly. To see it being pulled off was pretty cool. I think that’s a highlight reel shot that will probably get shown a few times over the next couple days.” 

Team Mouat, silver medallists at the worlds, were left chasing but were never out of it and always had a chance, especially in the fourth end with their skip shooting a gem of an angle raise double takeout to score a deuce and close within one. Gushue re-established the three-point gap though with a single in five and a steal in six.

Mouat misfired his last in seven to only get a single but didn’t give up, down two without the hammer, and forced Gushue to hurl his last straight down the centre line to clear the deck and add another point.

“He took on a lot of difficult shots tonight and made a lot of them to stay close,” Gushue said. “He could have easily poked that through the hole [in four] or hit and rolled off of one of them and all of sudden we’re up four and the game is pretty much out of reach. He makes that and all of a sudden it’s a one-point game. Even in seven, if we made one little mistake there, they’re probably getting a three or four and then even in eight. I had to make a good shot in eight. They played a perfect end, really, to force me into a difficult shot even up two with.” 

The series is testing a new rule at the Humpty’s Champions Cup called the no tick zone and it came into play during the final frame to make things more interesting. A rock touching the centre line, in the free guard zone, may not be moved off the centre line by the opposing team until the sixth rock of the end.

“We couldn’t play the tick on the first one and Geoff dropped it a little bit short and kind of acted like another guard for them,” Gushue said. “We knew it was going to be a challenging end unless we pulled off a pretty incredible double peel, which we weren’t able to execute.” 

Humpty’s Champions Cup: Scores and standings | Draw schedule | Broadcast schedule

Meanwhile, Edin (3-1) is all tuned up again following a 5-2 victory over Switzerland’s Team Yannick Schwaller (2-2). Edin, who won his record fifth world gold medal and third in a row, got off on the wrong foot in the Humpty’s Champions Cup dropping a 6-2 decision in only five ends to Calgary’s Team Kevin Koe during Thursday’s opening draw. Team Edin bounced back and are now on a three-game win streak heading into the quarterfinals.

Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., regrouped to get back in the win column and stay in contention for a fourth consecutive Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling men’s title. Jacobs, who won his third in a row at the Meridian Canadian Open in January 2020, cruised past Switzerland’s Team Peter de Cruz 8-2 and into the lone men’s tiebreaker against Schwaller.

Only one men’s tiebreaker game could be played for the final playoff spot leaving Team Matt Dunstone of Wadena, Sask., on the outside looking as a result of ranking last among the 2-2 teams in the draw to the button shootout totals. Dunstone ended his run on a high note though scoring three in the third and stealing five in the sixth to win 9-2 over Winnipeg’s Team Mike McEwen (1-3). Reid Carruthers has moved up from third to interim skip with McEwen at home to be with his wife, Team Jennifer Jones lead Dawn McEwen, who gave birth to their second child Thursday. Tyler Tardi of Langley, B.C., is filling in at third and second Derek Samagalski rounds out the group as a trio. Lead Colin Hodgson (personal) opted out of the bubble.

Earlier Saturday, Koe and Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher qualified for the playoffs with 3-1 records. Bottcher took the No. 2 seed and bye to the semifinals based on draw to the button shootout totals. Koe awaits the winner of the tiebreaker game. Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., and Team Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, Man., scored the byes to the women’s semifinals with 4-0 records. Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan and Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland qualified for the quarters with identical 3-1 records.

Two women’s tiebreakers are also on the docket with Scotland’s Team Eve Muirhead against Japan’s Team Satsuki Fujisawa and Russia’s Team Alina Kovaleva versus Team Min-Ji Kim of South Korea.

The Humpty’s Champions Cup is the first of back-to-back Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events in the bubble featuring 12 of the top men’s teams and 12 of the top women’s teams from around the world. The series is testing a new rule at the Humpty’s Champions Cup called the no tick zone. A rock touching the centre line, in the free guard zone, may not be moved off the centre line by the opposing team until the sixth rock of the end.

Tiebreakers kick off Sunday’s schedule at 2 p.m. ET / Noon local time on Sportsnet ONE with online streaming at Sportsnet Now (Canada) and Yare (international). The quarterfinals and semifinals follow with both championship games on tap for Monday.

There’s no rest for the world’s best with the Princess Auto Players’ Championship set to begin Tuesday. Both events are closed to the general public.