Koe wins 1-2 Page playoff game at Brier, Bottcher to meet Gushue in semifinal


Pressed into a three-man setup after the withdrawal of vice Mark Nichols, the Wild Card One team skipped by Brad Gushue showed Saturday that it can play short-handed just as well as even strength.

Gushue made a game-winning angle-runback to score three points for a 9-7 victory over Saskatchewan’s Colton Flasch in the 3-4 Page playoff game at the Tim Hortons Brier.

Alberta’s Kevin Koe defeated Canada’s Brendan Bottcher 9-7 in the 1-2 Page playoff game later in the day. Koe booked a direct berth into Sunday’s final while Bottcher fell into a semifinal against Gushue.

Bottcher missed a triple-takeout in the seventh end that set up Koe for a deuce. The teams exchanged singles before Koe ran the defending champion out of rocks in the 10th.

“It definitely wasn’t a classic,” Koe said. “The ice got a little trickier tonight with more missed shots but we maintained control.”

Earlier, with Nichols in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 a day earlier, his teammates used their mixed doubles skills to help adjust their sweeping routines and communication.

It paid off with a strong performance in a game that featured tremendous shotmaking from both sides.

“(It’s) like playing a hockey game killing a penalty for 60 minutes,” Gushue said of the three-man lineup. “It is that big a difference in my opinion.”

Gushue made a soft raise takeout for a pair to open the scoring in the second end. Second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker raised their fists in the air to salute the skip at the other end of the ice.

Nichols chimed in on Twitter by posting three flame emojis.

Flasch also showed his big-game mettle in front of the near-capacity crowd at the Enmax Centre. He made a hit for two in the third end and forced Gushue to find a tight port against three for a single in the fourth.

Saskatchewan vice Catlin Schneider missed a double takeout in the 10th end but Flasch was still able to draw around a center guard to the four-foot ring to put the pressure on.

Gushue said he threw his final shot a little tight but Gallant held it.

“I was just glad it was over to be honest,” Gushue said. “It’s really hard playing with three players. It’s mentally exhausting. Everybody is trying to do probably even more than you need to do. That was a grind.”

A team that started out as a favorite after an 8-0 round-robin run quickly became an underdog when Nichols went down. The odds are still against the three-time Brier champions but they’ll be tough to bet against.

“There’s no quit in our team,” Gushue said. “I think we’ve proven that over the last eight or 10 years we’ve been together. Certainly this afternoon was no exception. I’m super proud of what we did.”

The Wild Card One entry did not have an alternate player at the Brier. Jeff Thomas served as a fifth at Canada’s Olympic trials last fall and helped coach the Gushue rink to a bronze medal at the Beijing Games.

However, he wasn’t available this week since he was coaching the Newfoundland and Labrador team skipped by Nathan Young. Gallant said the turnaround from the Games to the Brier was too tight to bring a different alternate on board.

“It’s a bit of a roll of the dice obviously,” Gallant said.

The loss eliminated Flasch, who played three games a day earlier – posting knockout wins over Wild Card Two’s Matt Dunstone (in a tiebreaker) and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs – and did well in his first Brier as a skip.

“It just shows that we belong,” said Flasch, who won world silver in 2019 as a second for Koe. “We’re a great team and everyone knows it now.”

The Brier winner will represent Canada at the April 2-10 world men’s curling championship in Las Vegas.

Gushue, Northern Ontario third Marc Kennedy, Saskatchewan second Kevin Marsh and Canada lead Karrick Martin were named first-team all-stars Saturday night.

Koe, Nichols, Alberta second John Morris and teammate Ben Hebert took the second-team honors.

Kerri Einarson won her third straight Scotties Tournament of Hearts title last month in Thunder Bay, Ont. She will wear the Maple Leaf at the March 19-27 women’s world curling championship in Prince George, BC

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 12, 2022.

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