Team Canada skip Brad Gushue makes a shot as he plays Team Ontario at the Brier in Calgary, Alta., Friday, March 5, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Brier in the Bubble: Defending champion Gushue beats Epping in opening draw

Brier in the Bubble: Defending champion Gushue beats Epping in opening draw

CALGARY — Some of the top men’s curling teams in the country returned to the ice after a long absence Friday as the Tim Hortons Brier kicked off in a bubble setting at the Markin MacPhail Centre.

The opening draw of the 10-day competition came on the heels of a successful Canadian women’s curling championship, the first of seven events to be played in the Canada Olympic Park hub.

Defending champion Brad Gushue picked up where he left off a year ago when he raised the Brier tankard in Kingston, Ont. The veteran skip from St. John’s, N.L., defeated Ontario’s John Epping 6-2.

In other Draw 1 games, Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone dumped Nunavut’s Peter Mackey 10-2, Wild Card Two’s Kevin Koe beat Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald 7-4 and Quebec’s Michael Fournier edged Greg Smith of Newfoundland and Labrador 7-6.

The members of the Gushue rink last curled together as a foursome a year ago. The team won a couple bonspiels in Halifax last fall without Alberta-based lead Geoff Walker, who remained out west.

There were few signs of rust in the preliminary-round opener. The team threw at a 91 per cent clip and Gushue was perfect at 100 per cent.

Canada second Brett Gallant made a brilliant triple takeout in the second end and jokingly waved to the cardboard cutouts stationed throughout the spectator-free arena.

The teams blanked the first three ends as they got a feel for playing on arena ice again. Epping was heavy on a hit-and-roll attempt in the fourth end that set up a Gushue draw for two.

Ontario settled for a single in the fifth before a Gushue hit and roll set up another deuce in the sixth end. The teams shook hands after a Canada single in the ninth end.

For most teams, it was their first competitive game action in several months. A handful of tour events were played last fall before the pandemic forced the cancellation or postponement of most competitions.

Some provincial and territorial teams were able to play down in recent weeks, but most rinks were invited by their respective associations when championships were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Two more wild-card entries were added this year, boosting the field to 18 teams.

Players are staying in a hotel across the road from the WinSport Arena and are being tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis. Coaches and team alternates wore masks on the end benches.

Electronic hog-line sensors on the stone handles were not used for the second straight event due to equipment delays as a result of the pandemic. The honour system was in effect.

Three draws were scheduled for Saturday. Preliminary-round play continues through Thursday night.

The top four teams in each pool will advance to the two-day championship pool starting March 12. The top three teams will move on to the playoffs on March 14.

The second- and third-place teams will meet in an afternoon semifinal with the winner to play the first-place team for the championship.

The Brier winner will earn $100,000 of the $300,000 total purse, return as Team Canada at the 2022 Brier in Lethbridge, Alta., and earn a berth in the Olympic Trials in November at Saskatoon.

The champions will also represent Canada at the April 2-11 world men’s curling championship in the Calgary bubble.

Kerri Einarson won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts last weekend. She’ll represent Canada at the April 30-May 9 women’s world curling championship, which was added to the bubble calendar Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2021.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

The Canadian Press

curling

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Business Council of Alberta says the federal budget is nearly silent on Canada’s energy sector. (File photo by The Canadian Press)
Business Council of Alberta mostly disappointed in federal budget

Investments in childcare and early learning commended

.
3-hour paid leave for Albertans to get vaccinated in the works

The UCP government intends to introduce legislation that will ensure working Albertans… Continue reading

Alberta completed 18,412 COVID-19 tests, as reported on Wednesday, for a test positivity rate of 9.5 per cent. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Highest daily count of 2021 so far: Alberta reports 1,699 COVID-19 cases

Variants now make up 59 per cent of Alberta’s active cases

Several cases of COVID-19 were reported among employees of stores at Bower Place Mall. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
COVID-19 cases reported at Bower Place mall stores

AHS said five complaints were investigated since March, and required changes made

Westerner Park’s Exhibition Hall was used as a vaccination clinic on Wednesday. A steady stream of people came to get their COVID-19 shots either by appointment or as walk-ins. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
No long lineups at walk-in vaccination site in Red Deer

A steady stream of people walked into Westerner Park on Wednesday to… Continue reading

Linda Tomlinson
Gardening: Leave the lawn until the soil is dry

Spring is arriving, Alberta style with warm days, cold days and snow.… Continue reading

Silent protests were held recently in response to Red Deer Public Schools’ decision to reject a Pride Week in favour of a Diversity Week. Some former employees at Red Deer Public are saying the decision is misguided. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Letter: School board silencing Pride Week concern

While it has been our practice to not comment on matters arising… Continue reading

Anderson scores twice as Canadiens down Oilers 4-3

Anderson scores twice as Canadiens down Oilers 4-3

New York Liberty guard Kia Nurse (5) shoots next to Indiana Fever's Kamiah Smalls during the first half of a WNBA basketball game Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. Nurse isn't just one of Canada's finest female basketball players, she's becoming a popular voice of the game as well. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Phelan M. Ebenhack
Canadian basketball star Nurse is carving out space in sports broadcasting at just 25

Canadian basketball star Nurse is carving out space in sports broadcasting at just 25

The D.C. Defenders, right, line up against the Seattle Dragons for the opening kickoff of the opening football game of the XFL season, in Washington, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. Despite heated social media discussion in Canada, talks between the CFL and XFL haven't addressed what rules could be implemented in a potential partnership. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Stephen Whyno
CFL commissioner Ambrosie says talks with XFL have centred around business, not rules

CFL commissioner Ambrosie says talks with XFL have centred around business, not rules

Former B.C. university rowing coach ‘deeply sorry’ after complaints

Former B.C. university rowing coach ‘deeply sorry’ after complaints

Canada's Brianne Jenner (19) and Russia's Anna Shibanova (70) battle for position in front of Russia goaltender Alexandrova Nadezhda (31) during third period IIHF Ice Hockey Women's World Championship preliminary round action in Plymouth, Mich., on Monday, April 3, 2017. The women's world hockey championship in Nova Scotia has been cancelled a second time because of COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Kryk
Women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia cancelled again

Women’s world hockey championship in Nova Scotia cancelled again

Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford compete in the pairs figure skating free program at the Pyeonchang Winter Olympics Thursday, February 15, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
“Once in a lifetime opportunity” – Radford, James are Canada’s newest pairs team

“Once in a lifetime opportunity” - Radford, James are Canada’s newest pairs team

Most Read