Down to three players, Gushue team guts out win over Saskatchewan to reach Brier semifinal

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In his long and storied career as one of the top men’s curlers in the world, Brad Gushue has never faced quite this much adversity and still persevered.

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Gushue’s team (Wild Card 1), from St. John’s, NL, won a hard-fought playoff game at the Tim Hortons Brier on Saturday, with only three players in the lineup, to book a spot in Sunday’s semifinal.

Gushue, second Brett Gallant, and lead Geoff Walker were forced to play as a trio when third Mark Nichols tested positive for COVID-19 and was ruled out of the tournament.

And still, Gushue and his teammates played outstanding and pulled off a 9-7, last-rock win over an equally exceptional Saskatchewan team skipped by Colton Flasch in the Page playoff 3-4 game at Enmax Center in Lethbridge.

“I haven’t played any game of importance with three players before this week,” Gushue said. “I don’t ever remember playing against anybody with three for that matter.

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“It’s tough. It’s a big disadvantage. I think people don’t understand how big of a disadvantage it is at this level. For us to go out and win that game today, a playoff game at the Brier, with three players, it’s super impressive. I’m very proud of our team for hanging in there.”

Gushue originally compared the disadvantage to playing an entire hockey game on the penalty kill, but then came up with a different analogy.

“That might be a bit of an exaggeration, playing on a penalty kill, but maybe it’s like taking one player off a baseball team and forcing all the others to play different positions,” Gushue said. “That is probably a better analysis. Either way, no matter what comparison you use in sport, you’re nowhere near as what you are when you’re playing with a full team.”

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The team curled 83% in the game, with Gallant and Walker throwing three rocks each in each end. Gallant curled 80% and made a lot of touch shots to help set up ends for Gushue.

“We’re at a large disadvantage, taking Mark out of our lineup but I think drawing on some of our mixed doubles experience helps,” said Gallant, who will represent Canada at the mixed doubles world championship this year, along with his fiancée Jocelyn Peterman.

“If this would have happened eight years ago, before we played a little bit of mixed doubles, it would have been a real challenge, more of a mental challenge. When there’s less guys out there, you think you have to do more individually, but you know from mixed doubles that you can do it with one sweeper if you use him to the best of his abilities from him. It helps having that experience. We still have confidence we can make a ton of shots.”

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The Gushue foursome, which won a bronze medal at the recent Olympics in Beijing, will play either four-time Canadian champion Kevin Koe or defending champ Brendan Bottcher in the Brier semifinal Sunday at 1 pm, ET.

Koe and Bottcher were playing in the Page 1-2 game Saturday night, with the winner going directly to the final and the loser to the semifinal against Gushue.

Winning against either of those teams, with only three players, will be a whole new challenge.

“We certainly have an uphill battle (Sunday) but we’ve shown that we’re willing to fight our way through it and see what we can get out of it,” said Gushue, whose team was barely over the jet lag from their trip to China when the Brier started.

“I think we’ve exceeded most people’s expectations for three players and hopefully we can continue to do that.”

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Playing with three was certainly toughest on Walker — who held the broom in the house and called line when Gushue was shooting — and Gallant, but it helped that they have one of the best skips in the world throwing last rock.

The best of Gushue’s many great shots came with his last rock of the 10th end. He played an angle-raise of a rock that was outside the rings to move a Saskatchewan rock out of the four-foot and score three points.

“It’s great to see him make a pistol in the 10th end to win the game for us,” Gallant said. “The last shot, at the end of the week when we’re pretty comfortable with the ice, I think he makes that 75% of the time.”


He wasn’t able to end Saskatchewan’s 42-year Brier drought, but Flasch made a real statement to the rest of Canada’s elite curlers in Lethbridge.

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Flasch and his Saskatoon teammates were simply outstanding in the tournament and played tremendously in Saturday’s playoff loss against Gushue.

“It just shows everyone that our team is here and we’re going to be a force over the next few years,” the 31-year-old Flasch said.

“I’m a little disappointed, but at the end of the day, losing when you play good is definitely a lot better than when you play bad. There are good things to come for us.”

Flasch curled 86% in the elimination game and made some brilliant shots in the late ends in order to take a 7-6 lead into the 10th.

Unfortunately, Gushue made one better shot — his angle-raise in the 10th — to win it.

“I knew he had a shot for the win,” said Flasch, who curled with Catlin Schneider, Kevin Marsh and Dan Marsh.

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“It was an angle-run and he had made it earlier in the game, but we tried to make it tough. He still had to make it when it counts most and he did.”


The Brier all-star team, based on a combination of shooting percentages, players voting and media voting, was announced Saturday and Gushue’s team figured prominently.

Gushue was named the first team all-star skip, while Nichols was named as the third on the second team, despite missing the playoffs due to illness.

Northern Ontario’s Marc Kennedy was named the top third of the Brier, while Kevin Marsh of Saskatchewan got the nod at second and Karrick Martin of Canada was named the top lead.

Alberta’s Kevin Koe is the skip on the second team, while teammates John Morris (second) and Ben Hebert (lead) were also named to the second team.

Nova Scotia’s Scott Saccary was given the Ross Harstone Sportsmanship Award after a vote by all of the players in the Brier.

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