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Favorites stay ahead of the pack at Brier

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton and B.C.’s John Morris won their final round-robin games Thursday night to finish the Canadian men’s curling championship at 9-2.

A final Alberta win Friday would guarantee Kevin Koe a No. 1 finish at 10-1 leaving Manitoba second and B.C. third.

B.C. downed Saskatchewan 6-3 and Manitoba came from behind to beat Ontario 8-6 at the Tim Hortons Brier.

In other games, Newfoundland beat the Northwest Territories-Yukon 9-2 and Quebec beat Northern Ontario 7-4.

Saskatchewan and Quebec at 6-4 are leading the race for the fourth and final playoff spot but Newfoundland is hanging in at 6-5 while Ontario is out of the race at 4-6.

The favourites going into the 2014 Canadian men’s curling championship are the favourites coming out as the round robin draws to a close.

Alberta’s Kevin Koe sits at 9-1 in top spot with only one game left Friday morning, after a 9-6 win over Prince Edward Island Thursday afternoon. P.E.I., led by Eddie MacKenzie (3-7), also has only one game left against the Territories Friday morning at the Tim Hortons Brier.

Koe admitted he made it harder than it should have been.

“We got up early and then I just threw one bad shot and gave up a three ender (and) after that they started making a lot of shots,” he said.

“We definitely could have made it easier on ourselves.”

One more win Friday in their final game against Quebec and he gets hammer and choice of rocks for the one vs. two playoff. It’s an experience Koe says he has never had, either in 2010 when he won the Brier or in 2012 when he came second.

“It’ll be a different feeling, not having our backs against the wall,” Koe said.

Manitoba and B.C. both sat at 8-2 after three-time winner Jeff Stoughton defeated B.C.’s John Morris 7-6 in an extra end Thursday morning. The top three seem secure but exactly who sits in what spot awaited the results of their final games Thursday and Friday.

Assuming they all win, the order is Alberta, Manitoba, B.C.

“It was a great game, puts us in a great position,” said Stoughton, whose last win was in 2011.

“It gives you confidence going into the playoffs that things are going pretty good for us. We feel that we’re playing better now than we were at the start of the week. And I think . . . what you want to do is build on it.”

Stoughton started the Brier with four wins — though none were decisive — before losing to Alberta and Quebec. He admitted both he and third John Mead needed to pick up their game.

The Thursday morning game wasn’t mistake-free for Manitoba or B.C., but the last and most costly miss was made by the hometown favourites.

After exchanging deuces in the first two ends, it was singles until B.C.’s Jim Cotter missed a key double with his last rock in eight, letting Stoughton draw to the button for two to go ahead 6-5.

“It was a real tough double,” said Morris. “We missed it by a hair.”

“It was just one of those games where we weren’t sharp enough, we were really close but we weren’t sharp enough. Jimmy made a couple of clutch shots just to keep us in it.”

Cotter, who has been a top-shooting fourth stone for much of the Brier, agreed it was a killer.

“That was a big deuce in eight for them. I just barely missed, the wrong side of the inch I guess,” he said.

“Maybe it wasn’t our best game but we hung in there, made him throw his last one.”

Manitoba held the lead into 10 when Cotter had to hit to take one and force the extra end but Stoughton used the hammer to score a single with an easy double bump to sit on the button.

Saskatchewan is now in the driver’s seat in the battle for the fourth and final playoff spot.

Steve Laycock was down 4-0 in the second but came back to edge Greg Balsdon of Ontario 8-7 in an extra end and, at 6-3, fourth place is now Saskatchewan’s to lose.

But they faced a game against B.C. Thursday evening.

“That was massive because they’re the team we’ve got to stay ahead of and Quebec won their game so they’re one loss behind us,” Laycock said of the win.

Quebec was sitting at 5-4 after a 7-5 win over the Territories led by Jamie Koe, Kevin’s brother, and were facing Northern Ontario (2-8) in the evening draw. But they must play Alberta Friday.

In the only other afternoon game, James Grattan of New Brunswick kept his hopes alive and improved to 5-5, tied with Newfoundland and Labrador, by beating winless Jamie Murphy of Nova Scotia 6-5.

Newfoundland was set to play the Territories Thursday evening and Grattan faces Saskatchewan Friday morning.

Ontario was at 4-5 after the loss to Saskatchewan and faced Manitoba Thursday evening, when a loss would put them out of contention.

 
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