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Defending champion Gushue wins opening game at the Tim Hortons Brier

Brad Gushue, from St. John’s, N.L., delivered when it mattered most
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Team Canada skip Brad Gushue yells instructions to the sweepers during Canada’s first draw against British Columbia at the 2023 Tim Hortons Brier at Budweiser Gardens in London, Ont. on Friday, March 3, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Geoff Robins

Defending champ Brad Gushue picked up where he left off at the Canadian men’s curling championship with an opening victory Friday night.

British Columbia’s Jacques Gauthier made him earn it.

Gushue held off the 2020 world junior champion 6-5 in a back-and-forth round-robin opener at Budweiser Gardens.

“I thought we called a good game and managed it reasonably well,” Gushue said. “We just didn’t execute as well as we should have.”

Gushue, from St. John’s, N.L., still delivered when it mattered most. He earned a steal after drawing to the button in the ninth end and capped the win by holding Gauthier to a single in the 10th.

“We held them until the last end,” said Gauthier, a 24-year-old Brier rookie. “I couldn’t be more proud of how the guys played. There were a couple shots here and there that I’d personally like back.

“But we held it in there until the end and that’s all you can ask for.”

Gushue has won the Tim Hortons Brier on four occasions over the last six years. His Brier victory last season in Lethbridge, Alta., was sandwiched by an Olympic bronze and world silver.

Gauthier played like a veteran and gave the Newfoundland and Labrador-based side a stiff challenge.

He showed his form in the opening end with a freeze by the button that helped generate a single. Gauthier followed with a force but was wide with a tap attempt in the third that gave Gushue a steal of two.

The teams then exchanged singles through the eighth end.

It was Gushue’s first competitive game in about seven weeks. His team didn’t have to play provincial playdowns since it had an automatic Brier entry as defending champions.

Winnipeg resident Mike McEwen enjoyed some home team love from the crowd in a 13-2 rout of Quebec’s Felix Asselin. It was the first time McEwen has worn Ontario colours at the Brier.

“It feels strangely weird wearing the black and red,” McEwen said. “It’s exciting to have the crowd get behind us. I think the more games we can win will encourage that.”

In other games, the Wild Card 1 team skipped by Brendan Bottcher dumped Prince Edward Island’s Tyler Smith 8-2. Karsten Sturmay’s Wild Card 3 rink topped New Brunswick’s Scott Jones 7-3.

“We’ve been looking forward to the Brier all year, especially the last couple weeks leading up here,” Bottcher said. “It’s nice to come out and get a win, but more importantly play well.”

Two draws are scheduled for Saturday before the competition shifts to three-draw days through Thursday. The playoffs begin March 10 and the final is scheduled for March 12.

Alberta’s Kevin Koe, Manitoba’s Matt Dunstone and Wild Card 2’s Reid Carruthers are some of the other event headliners.

The Brier winner will represent Canada at the April 1-9 world men’s curling championship in Ottawa.

London last hosted the Brier in 2011 when Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton beat Ontario’s Glenn Howard in the final. The southwest Ontario city, located about 200 kilometres west of Toronto, also hosted the 1974 playdowns.

Kerri Einarson won the Canadian women’s championship last week in Kamloops, B.C. Her Manitoba-based team will wear the Maple Leaf at the March 18-26 world women’s playdowns in Sandviken, Sweden.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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