Alberta’s Bottcher beats Saskatchewan’s Dunstone to remain unbeaten at Brier

KINGSTON, Ont. — No surprise teams this time around at the Tim Hortons Brier. And with a field this strong, there’s little room for mistakes now too.

The best Canadian men’s curling teams — No. 1 through No. 8 in the domestic rankings, in fact — started battling in the championship round Thursday after making the eight-team cut.

Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher picked up where he left off after going unbeaten in the preliminary round. He defeated Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone 9-5 to improve to 8-0.

“A little bit of good luck and a lot of great curling,” Alberta third Darren Moulding said of his team’s record. “You have to have a little bit of everything to go undefeated in a field like this.

“We still have three games left in the round-robin here and we’re looking to keep adding wins to the tally.”

Another draw was scheduled for Thursday night at the Leon’s Centre. The championship round continues through Friday evening with the top four teams moving on to the Page playoffs.

Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador (7-1) moved into second place with a 7-4 win over Team Canada’s Kevin Koe.

“For the start of the championship pool, we knew we had to just elevate our game slightly as a team,” said Newfoundland and Labrador second Brett Gallant. “They have the Maple Leaf for a reason. They’re a good team and you know they’re going to play well at the Brier every year.

“It was important for us to play well and I think we did.”

Saskatchewan and Team Wild Card’s Mike McEwen were next at 6-2. McEwen dropped a 6-4 decision to Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs.

Ontario’s John Epping, meanwhile, beat Manitoba’s Jason Gunnlaugson 9-5 in the other afternoon game. Both teams were in a four-way tie at 5-3 with Koe and Jacobs.

Ontario won its first three games of this competition before dropping three straight. A night earlier, Epping was pushed to his last shot of the preliminary round before claiming the last berth.

“We almost fell off the roller-coaster a few times but I think we’ve lost our safety belts,” said Ontario lead Brent Laing. “We’re just holding on for dear life now and it’s nice to get another win now to start the championship round.”

In the Page playoffs, the winner of Saturday’s 1-2 game will advance directly to the final Sunday night.

The 1-2 loser will fall into the semifinal against the winner of Saturday’s 3-4 playoff game. The semifinal winner will advance to the final.

The Brier champion will represent Canada at the March 28-April 5 world men’s curling championship in Glasgow, Scotland.

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