Sports Defending champ Gushue headlines 18-team field as bubble play resumes with Brier
Kerri Einarson, Brad Gushue team up for national mixed doubles championship
CALGARY — If there's an upside to Kerri Einarson not having a women's world curling championship to play in this month, it's the chance to win another Canadian championship. Einarson and reigning Canadian men's champion skip Brad Gushue were among the 35 duos named Tuesday to the national mixed doubles championship. The March 18-25 tournament will be the third of four Curling Canada events held in a spectator-free, controlled environment in Calgary to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Brad Gushue won his first Canadian men's curling championship in a sold-out hometown venue that erupted in joy after his game-winning throw.
The three-time champion will try to win another Tim Hortons Brier title in an arena setting that will be the complete opposite.
Play begins Friday night in a spectator-free Markin MacPhail Centre as elite men's domestic curling returns after a long absence due to the pandemic.
The Scotties Tournament of Hearts provided a successful kickoff to a run of six straight bonspiels at Canada Olympic Park. Now the Brier takes centre stage as 18 teams — many of them competing for the first time in months — square off for the right to hoist the Tankard.
Brier in the Bubble: Defending champion Gushue beats Epping in opening draw
CALGARY — Brad Gushue picked up where he left off at the Canadian men's curling championship on Friday night. In his first game with the full foursome of Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker since winning the Tim Hortons Brier a year ago, the defending champs showed few signs of rust in a clinical 6-2 win over Ontario's John Epping. Canada shot 91 per cent as a team while Gushue threw a perfect 100 per cent, numbers he felt may have been a little too kind. "To use a golf expression, there's no pictures on the scorecard," Gushue said with a smile. "There were some throws out there that were pretty gross. But we got a lot out of every shot.
"It's going to be interesting and really I have no idea what to expect," Gushue said. "I think once we get through the first weekend, you'll probably settle in and know the level (everyone) is at and then you just kind of accept it and battle it out."
The preliminary round will continue through March 11. The top eight teams will qualify for the two-day championship round.
The top three teams will advance the playoffs on March 14. The second- and third-place teams will meet in an afternoon semifinal with the winner to face the first-place side in the evening final.
It has been four years since Gushue won his first Brier in front of a euphoric crowd in St. John's, N.L. He beat Alberta's Brendan Bottcher last year in Kingston, Ont.
The Canada skip is listed as an early 2.35-to-1 favourite to repeat by online sports book Coolbet Canada, just ahead of Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs, wild-card entry Kevin Koe and Bottcher.
Wayne Middaugh leads Howard rink to victory in its opening game of Tim Hortons Brier
CALGARY — When Wayne Middaugh first joined Glenn Howard's team as a fifth, a utilityman role was planned: a veteran backup who could help strategize, provide guidance and have a little playing time mixed in. It turns out he'll be much more than a traditional alternate at the Canadian men's curling championship. With Howard still nursing sore ribs after a recent snowmobile accident, Middaugh has been thrust into the skip role for the Ontario-based Wild Card Three team. In his first competitive game in over five years, the Canadian Curling Hall of Famer delivered on Saturday at the WinSport Arena.
Video: Ben Hebert gives his no holds barred predictions for the Scotties championship round (cbc.ca)
"I think the fact that there have been so few games and the practice time hasn't been there for a lot of teams, it's a bit of a crapshoot to be honest," Gushue said. "I think this could go a lot of different ways than what it would if we had all had our regular run-up to the Brier."
Like many rinks at the recent Scotties Tournament of Hearts, most Brier teams were invited by their respective associations to play after the cancellation of annual playdowns due to the pandemic.
"I think we'll probably be as patient as we can because I think everybody is going to make some mistakes," Gushue said. "It's the teams that don't compound those mistakes that are going to be successful."
There is no play-in game this year.
Ontario's Glenn Howard, Koe's Alberta-based team and Mike McEwen's rink from Manitoba are the wild-card entries.
Alberta's Bottcher hands Wild Card Three's Middaugh his first loss at the Brier
CALGARY — Manitoba's Jason Gunnlaugson moved into sole possession of first place in Pool A at the Canadian men's curling championship on Monday after an 8-5 victory over Wild Card One's Mike McEwen. Gunnlaugson was the only unbeaten skip in the nine-team pool at 3-0. "It's a good start but it's a long, long week," Gunnlaugson said. Alberta's Brendan Bottcher defeated Wild Card Three's Wayne Middaugh 5-3 to hand the veteran skip his first loss of the preliminary round.
Koe will attempt to win a record fifth Brier title as a skip, a mark he shares with Ernie Richardson, Randy Ferbey and Kevin Martin.
Koe is a headliner in Pool B along with Gushue, Ontario's John Epping and Saskatchewan's Matt Dunstone, who finished third last year in Kingston.
They're joined by Quebec's Mike Fournier, Greg Smith of Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I.'s Eddie MacKenzie, Nunavut's Peter Mackey and Jamie Murphy's Nova Scotia team that will be skipped by Scott McDonald.
Bottcher, McEwen and Howard are in Pool A along with Jacobs, Manitoba's Jason Gunnlaugson, B.C.'s Steve Laycock, New Brunswick's James Grattan, Greg Skauge of the Northwest Territories and Yukon's Dustin Mikkelsen.
The Brier winner will represent Canada at the April 2-11 world men's curling championship in the Calgary bubble.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
Canadian Mixed Doubles Curling Championship 2021: Results, standings, schedule and TV channel .
Canada's national mixed doubles curling championship takes place in Calgary, Alta.Canada's national curling championship begins on Thursday, with 35 teams hitting the sheets in Calgary, Alta. Normally scheduled to take place with 32 pairings, Curling Canada opted to expand. The 35 teams will represent provinces and territories (14), teams from the March 15, 2019 to March 15, 2020 Canadian Mixed Doubles Rankings (14) and teams that had previously committed to playing together but were unable to compete this year because of COVID-19 (seven).