Alberta’s Bottcher tops Ontario’s Epping 10-3 to lock up 1-2 Page berth at Brier

Alberta 10 Ontario 3

KINGSTON, Ont. — After close losses in the last two Tim Hortons Brier finals, Brendan Bottcher’s Alberta team is well aware of the importance of having the hammer in the championship game.

They moved a big step closer to that goal Friday by locking up first place in the championship pool and securing a berth in the 1-2 Page playoff game.

Bottcher dumped Ontario’s John Epping 10-3 in the afternoon draw to improve to 9-1.

“If we keep playing like we’ve played up to now, I think our team is capable of winning the Brier,” Bottcher said. “If we play anything less than that, I think we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”

Entering the evening draw at the Leon’s Centre, six of the seven remaining teams still had a chance at making the four-team cut for Saturday’s playoffs.

Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador beat Team Wild Card’s Mike McEwen 5-3 to move into sole possession of second place at 8-2. Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs, Team Wild Card’s Mike McEwen and Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone were tied for third at 7-3.

Ontario and Kevin Koe’s Team Canada were left with faint hopes at 6-4.

Several tiebreaker scenarios were still in play depending on late results — including a potential five-way tie at 7-4 — and a schedule for potential games had not been set.

After a 1-3 start, Northern Ontario extended its winning streak to six games with a 7-3 win over Canada.

“We’ve just built and built and built,” Jacobs said. “I think we’ve found our groove and we’ve developed some momentum.”

Canada lead Ben Hebert, meanwhile, seemed resigned to the fact the 2019 champs were unlikely to defend their title.

“We’re able to beat anyone when we play good,” he said. “But it’s just consistently we haven’t been able to crank it up and stay there.”

At 5-5, Manitoba’s Jason Gunnlaugson was eliminated from playoff contention after dropping a 9-8 decision to Saskatchewan.

The winner of Saturday’s 1-2 Page playoff game will advance directly to the final Sunday night.

In the playoffs, the higher seed gets hammer and choice of stones if they have a better record. If they’re tied, then the higher seed gets choice of hammer or stones based on head-to-head results.

Bottcher’s side didn’t start with hammer in its 2018 final loss to Gushue or last year’s defeat against Koe.

It gave those veteran skips more control and they were able to secure the last shot late in the game and use it to their advantage.

“Our goal was to get to the 1-2 game to give ourselves the opportunity to get hammer in the final,” said Alberta third Darren Moulding. “We’re happy that we’ve achieved that goal but the hardest part of the Brier is still coming.”

The top eight teams in the Canadian rankings made the eight-team cut for the championship round.

The winner of Saturday’s 3-4 Page playoff will advance to the semifinal Sunday afternoon against the loser of the 1-2 game. The semifinal winner will move on to the final.

“It’s going to be a great finish,” said Northern Ontario third Marc Kennedy. “Whoever it is, every team out there right now is good enough to win this thing and represent Canada.

“So you’ve just got to make a ton of shots.”

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

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2020.

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