Team Wild Card Three alternate Wayne Middaugh makes a shot as he plays Team New Brunswick at the Brier in Calgary, Alta., Wednesday, March 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Middaugh, Gushue, Epping and Dunstone advance to championship pool at the Brier

Middaugh, Gushue, Epping and Dunstone advance to championship pool at the Brier

CALGARY — The championship pool picture became clearer Thursday at the Canadian men’s curling championship as Canada’s Brad Gushue, Ontario’s John Epping and Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone advanced with afternoon victories.

They joined wild-card skips Wayne Middaugh and Kevin Koe in the final eight.

Gushue secured his spot with a 9-2 rout of Nunavut’s Peter Mackey. The defending Tim Hortons Brier champion from St. John’s, N.L., was tied in second place in Pool B with Ontario and Saskatchewan at 6-2.

Epping’s 8-4 win over Prince Edward Island’s Eddie MacKenzie wrapped up after the minimum eight ends while Dunstone held off Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald 7-5.

Records will carry over into the two-day championship round. The top three teams will then advance to Sunday’s playoffs.

“We just accomplished step one of three ultimately,” Dunstone said. “So it doesn’t change: the arena, the rocks, everything stays the same come tomorrow.”

Quebec’s Michael Fournier needed a win and some help to crack the top four in Pool B but he was eliminated after dropping a 10-5 decision to Koe of Wild Card Two, who led the nine-team group at 7-1.

Middaugh’s Wild Card Three team beat Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs 8-6 in the morning draw to improve to 6-1 and become the first team out of Pool A to advance.

It has been an impressive return for Middaugh, who last played at the Brier in 2013. He was originally tabbed to serve as an alternate but an injury to skip Glenn Howard forced them to switch roles.

“Expectations weren’t super high,” Middaugh said. “We knew we could make a lot of shots. We weren’t sure if we could run with the big guys, it turns out if we play really well (we can).”

Middaugh was scheduled to meet Manitoba’s Jason Gunnlaugson in the evening draw at the Markin MacPhail Centre. British Columbia’s Steve Laycock beat Gunnlaugson 7-4 in the morning.

Gunnlaugson fell into a second-place tie at 5-2 with Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher, who dumped Yukon’s Dustin Mikkelsen 11-2.

“It’s a long week,” Bottcher said. “It started out OK, I think we’re gaining some momentum here and I hope we can take that through into the last couple days.”

Northern Ontario slipped to 5-3, just ahead of New Brunswick’s James Grattan (4-3). If a tiebreaker is necessary, it will be played Friday morning.

Wild Card One’s Mike McEwen dumped Gregory Skauge of the Northwest Territories 12-3 in the other morning game. Neither team was in championship pool contention.

It was a disappointing preliminary round for McEwen, who’s ranked fifth in the country.

“”I’m ready to go home to be quite honest,” he said after the morning draw. “That’s how I feel.”

B.C. and Wild Card One were at 3-4, ahead of the N.W.T. (1-6) and the Yukon (0-7).

In Pool B, Quebec and Nova Scotia missed the cut at 4-4. Greg Smith of Newfoundland and Labrador was in seventh place at 2-6.

Prince Edward Island finished at 1-7 and Nunavut was winless at 0-8.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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