Canada Skip Brad Gushue watches after delivering a stone against Germany during the World Men's Curling Championships, Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Las Vegas. Gushue lost 10-6 to Korey Dropkin of the United States in the men's world curling championship Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/John Locher

Gushue drops game to U.S., but still controls playoff destiny in men’s world curling

Gushue drops game to U.S., but still controls playoff destiny in men’s world curling

LAS VEGAS — A high playoff seed at the men’s world curling championship could ease the grind for Brad Gushue’s Canadian team.

That asset was still on the table for Gushue heading into the round robin’s final day Friday.

Despite winning seven of nine games to be a frontrunner in Las Vegas, the tournament has felt like an uphill battle for a team playing for a third major title in as many months and different countries.

Gushue overcame slow starts to open with six straight wins in Vegas, but a five-point deficit after five ends against Korey Dropkin of the United States proved too deep a hole in a 10-6 loss Thursday morning.

“A tough loss but you know, we’re still control our own destiny and we can still finish first place we win out,” the Canadian skip said.

Canada (7-2) was to face Soo-Hyuk Kim of South Korea (5-4) in the evening draw.

The top six teams Friday advance to playoffs. The top two seeds gets byes to Saturday evening’s semifinals with third to sixth playing off earlier that day to join them.

Sweden was 7-3, the United States 6-3, Scotland and Switzerland both 6-4 and Italy 5-4 heading into the evening draw.

Germany and Norway were even at 5-5 ahead of the Czech Republic (4-6), Finland (3-7), the Netherlands (2-7) and Denmark (1-8).

The medal games are Sunday at the Orleans Arena.

Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker out of St. John’s, N.L., could use all the advantages a semifinal bye affords.

Mere days after earning Olympic bronze in Beijing in February, they headed to Lethbridge, Alta., for the Canadian men’s championship.

They claimed their fourth Brier playing as a three-man team on the final playoff weekend. Nichols had to isolate with COVID-19.

In addition to the breather a top-two seed affords Saturday, higher seeds are rewarded with last-rock advantage to start each playoff game.

In the round robin, the combined measurement of two pre-game button draws determines which country gets hammer in the first end.

The U.S. beat Canada to the button Thursday, meaning Gushue was without hammer to start in an eighth straight game. The Americans made the most of it, scoring a quick two points in the opening end.

“First and foremost is getting that hammer. We haven’t been very good at that this week,” Gushue said.

“That would certainly be a bonus, but just as big as that is getting a bit of rest. We’re all feeling it. I think the energy was a little bit low and it has been for the most part this week. Any chance we can get to get some rest is going to benefit our team.”

In nine preliminary-round games, the Canadians were outscored a combined 42-32 over the first five ends, and outpointed the opposition 43-19 over the back five.

The Americans had their draw weight locked in throughout their lineup. Canada didn’t, and was often forced to chase with runbacks and low-percentage hits.

Dropkin, who shot 100 per cent over his first seven ends, drew for four in the fifth end for a 7-2 lead.

“That’s as good as anybody’s played against us this week and arguably this year,” Gushue said. “I never felt they took the foot off the pedal, I can’t even say any time we had a chance, because I never felt we had a chance to be honest.”

Down 9-4 after seven ends, alternate E.J. Harnden rotated into the Canadian lineup for Gallant.

“We felt the game was a little bit our of reach. We wanted to give him a chance to get out on the ice,” Gushue said. “We haven’t been very good at controlling games and getting in a situation where we have an easy win.

“It looked like it was going to be a pretty easy loss, so we got him in there.”

Higher seeds also get first choice of stones in playoff games. Teams scout stones’ movements and compile reports on them in order to match consistent stones together.

The World Curling Federation’s granite — formerly used in World Curling Tour Grand Slams — is a Gushue beef in Vegas.

Gallant and Walker switched stones early in Thursday’s loss to the U.S. because of a lack of curl.

“Even when it came time for Mark’s shots, it was hard to know where to put the broom because his rocks were different than what Geoff’s and Brett’s were,” Gushue explained.

“They’re not a good set of stones. That’s why the Grand Slams stopped using them. Just shocked they’re being used at a world championships. They were heavily mismatched when we played with them at the Slams.

“We had a great book (on them), but then they changed all the handles on them, so we couldn’t use it. So, just a cluster expletive.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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