LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A night packed with wild swings of emotion caught up to Darren Moulding as he left the ice area Saturday at the Tim Hortons Brier.
He needed a moment to get the words out as the embrace of his six-year-old son, Brady, by the side boards at the Enmax Centre was still fresh in his mind.
After being cut by Brendan Bottcher’s team last fall, Moulding wanted to use the situation as a teaching example. He later joined a new team and returned to the national playdowns to show he could write his own narrative and bounce back from adversity.
“The reason I’m here is to show him that when somebody punches you in the face, when somebody spits on you, you don’t stop,” Moulding said. “You just keep going. He knows that. I could see how proud he was of me tonight.”
The Canada-New Brunswick showdown was much-hyped and it delivered. Bottcher’s side scored a deuce in the 10th end for a 6-4 win over James Grattan in a rollicking performance that the lively crowd ate up from start to finish.
“Ultimately it was always going to be a battle,” Bottcher said. “I guess I came into this game expecting it and I was actually glad it lived up to that hype.”
Moulding helped Bottcher’s team to three straight Brier silver medals before finally winning last season in the Calgary bubble. His high-profile departure was a stunner and Moulding wasn’t shy about voicing his thoughts about the breakup.
Helping Grattan to victory in the provincial tankard booked his return to the Brier in his former hometown. Landing in the same nine-team pool as the defending champs set the stage for a matchup loaded with zip.
“It was wonderful,” Moulding said. “I just wish I could have played a little bit better. James made everything all night. We gave it a good go. A win would have been cool. At least it was a good game.”
There was noticeable intensity from the start in their first on-ice meeting since the split.
Canada second Brad Thiessen gave Moulding a so-called drive-by handshake before the game. After a few stones were played, the New Brunswick vice glided across the ice to offer a few words for Thiessen, who did not engage.
“It was pretty intense,” Thiessen said. “It kind of felt like the Brier final out there if I’m being honest. We both really wanted to win. I’m glad that we came out on top.”
Thiessen, perhaps a tad rattled, uncharacteristically flashed a rock in the second end. Canada went on to score a single and built a 3-0 lead with back-to-back steals.
“There were moments of chirping and there were also moments of friendliness,” Moulding said. “I was trying to be a little bit playful with it. It’s not life or death out there. So I threw a couple good jabs out there.”
The near-capacity crowd – rather well-lubricated in some sections – was rocking from the start. Bottcher’s Edmonton-based side was playing in its home province but was given the road team treatment.
Moulding, who now lives in Lacombe, Alta., got the spectators going by waving his arms in the air as they roared their approval. He occasionally banged his broom on the floorboards during “Let’s Go Moulding!” chants.
Bottcher didn’t seem fazed at all, playing a steady, consistent game with little offence and few mistakes.
He was heavy with a draw in the seventh end but forced Grattan to a single in the eighth. Bottcher missed a double-takeout for three in the ninth that gave New Brunswick a steal and tied the game.
Grattan was slightly wide with his final throw to set up Bottcher’s game-winning hit.
“It’ll just be another game next time and that’s good,” Moulding said. “We’ve got to turn the page on it.”
In other night games, Alberta’s Kevin Koe cruised to a 14-3 rout of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Nathan Young. Yukon’s Thomas Scoffin posted a 13-7 win over Prince Edward Island’s Tyler Smith and Matt Dunstone’s Wild Card Two team shaded Ontario’s Glenn Howard 7-6.
Earlier, Brad Gushue’s team continued its whirlwind winter with a 9-3 victory over Quebec’s Michael Fournier. Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker opened with a deuce and never trailed the rest of the way.
The St. John’s, N.L.,-based team only spent about a week at home after a long trip back from Beijing, where they won bronze at the Winter Olympics. The players held a two-week training camp in British Columbia before flying to China last month.
Gushue admitted in Beijing that he wasn’t sure whether his team could be in top form at the national playdowns given the mental, physical and emotional toll of competing at the Games.
But the Wild Card One skip, who has won the Brier three times over the last five years, was in full control from the start of the draw.
“I’m trying to weather the storm in the first four or five games and get a feel and get comfortable,” Gushue said. “I think if we’re able to weather that storm, obviously expectations are going to start increasing and we’ll see what we can do.”
In other early games, Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming topped Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories 11-5, Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs defeated Wild Card Three’s Jason Gunnlaugson 5-3 and Manitoba’s Mike McEwen dumped B.C.’s Brent Pierce 10-3.
Competition continues through March 13. The winning rink from the 18-team competition will represent Canada at the April 2-10 world men’s curling championship in Las Vegas.