Koe beats Bottcher in extra end as playoff picture tightens at Tim Hortons Brier

Team Canada 5 Team Alberta 4

KINGSTON, Ont. — Canada lead Ben Hebert smacked his broom on the ice. Teammate Colton Flasch looked dejected. A look of resignation washed over the faces of B.J. Neufeld and skip Kevin Koe.

The defending champions were one shot away from a dreaded fourth loss at the Tim Hortons Brier.

However, a rare miss by Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher gave the defending champions new life.

Bottcher blew a draw for the win and Koe took advantage with an open hit in an extra end for a 5-4 victory. The result gave Alberta its first loss and tightened the playoff picture in the championship pool.

“We needed it to control our own fate,” Koe said. “That gets us back to feeling good about ourselves going into tomorrow.”

Alberta remained in sole possession of first place at 8-1 ahead of Team Wild Card’s Mike McEwen and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Brad Gushue at 7-2.

Canada moved into a four-way tie for fourth place at 6-3 with Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone, Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs and Ontario’s John Epping. Manitoba’s Jason Gunnlaugson was last at 5-4.

There are no surprise teams in this year’s eight-team championship pool. And with a field this strong — Nos. 1 through No. 8 in the Canadian rankings remain — there’s little room for mistakes now too.

Two more draws were scheduled for Friday at the Leon’s Centre. The top four teams will move on to the Page playoffs.

It was a tough two-loss day for Saskatchewan. Dunstone dropped a 9-5 decision to Alberta in the afternoon before falling 7-4 to Northern Ontario.

Newfoundland and Labrador beat Canada 7-4 but couldn’t get past Ontario in the nightcap with Epping scoring three in the ninth end for an 8-4 victory. Ontario beat Manitoba 9-5 earlier in the day.

Jacobs opened the championship round with a 6-4 win over Team Wild Card and his Northern Ontario rink is now riding a five-game win streak.

“You might as well leave it all out there because if you lose, you’re going home,” said Northern Ontario third Marc Kennedy. “That’s been our mentality for the last couple days.

“I think it just brings out a little bit extra in you.”

Wild Card edged Manitoba 5-4 in evening play.

Ontario won its first three games of the preliminary round, then lost three straight, and has now won three in a row again.

“We almost fell off the roller-coaster a few times but I think we’ve lost our safety belts,” Ontario lead Brent Laing said with a smile. “We’re just holding on for dear life now.”

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.

Notes: Wayne Middaugh was formally inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame during a ceremony before the evening draw. The three-time Brier champion won 11 Grand Slam titles over his career.

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