Newfoundland and Labrador’s Gushue beats Nunavut’s Higgs at Tim Hortons Brier

Newfoundland and Labrador 7 Nunavut 2

KINGSTON, Ont. — For years, Brad Gushue was saddled with the tag of being the best skip without a national men’s curling title.

That all changed in 2017 when he finally won the Tim Hortons Brier. His 14-year drought ended on home ice in St. John’s to boot.

“I didn’t think about the pressure of not winning the Brier, it was the pressure of playing at home,” Gushue said. “It was probably a good distraction to be quite honest.”

The Newfoundland and Labrador skip defended his title in 2018 and reached the Brier playoffs again last year. The 39-year-old is playing with a champion’s confidence this week at the Leon’s Centre.

Gushue improved to 4-1 on Tuesday with a 7-2 victory over Nunavut’s Jake Higgs. The win came on the heels of a strong performance a night earlier against top-ranked Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario.

Jacobs scored four in the opening end but Gushue replied with three of his own in the second. An impressive double takeout gave him a key blank in the ninth end and Gushue went on to win 7-6.

Gushue didn’t seem fazed by the early deficit and his composure remained remarkably steady throughout.

Gone are the days of any mounting Brier pressure and questions about whether he’d ever lift the tankard. It shows in the team’s comfort level on the ice.

“Now that they took the step, he’s very confident,” said team coach Jules Owchar.

The 2017 Brier title and world championship that followed were the missing pieces on Gushue’s curling resume. The 2001 world junior champ also captured Olympic gold at the 2006 Turin Games.

His first national title was capped with an emphatic broom toss and kicked off an all-night celebration for many in St. John’s.

“To finally break through and get that, it’s great,” Gushue said. “You hear it a lot in golf with guys that haven’t won a major or haven’t a golf tournament. You don’t want to have that reputation for too long but certainly if you do, you know you’re doing something right to get to that area.

“Certainly the difference between playing any other Brier and when we played that one in Regina (as Team Canada) was dramatically different. Now we’re just trying to get back on top so there’s a little different pressure now.”

Newfoundland and Labrador was at 4-1 in Pool B behind Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher, who remained unbeaten at 5-0 after a 6-2 win over Nova Scotia’s Jamie Murphy.

Gushue opened round-robin play with wins over Manitoba’s Jason Gunnlaugson and Nova Scotia. His lone hiccup came in a 3-2 loss to Bottcher, who threw a perfect 100 per cent.

Gushue will close out the preliminary round on Wednesday against Prince Edward Island’s Bryan Cochrane and Quebec’s Alek Bedard.

Canada’s Kevin Koe delivered a highlight moment Tuesday afternoon with a brilliant triple takeout for a 3-2 win over Team Wild Card’s Mike McEwen. Koe, McEwen and Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone, a 6-4 winner over Ontario’s John Epping, were tied in first place in Pool A at 4-1.

Epping fell into a fourth-place tie with New Brunswick’s James Grattan at 3-2.

Gunnlaugson provided the dramatics in the morning draw with a circus double-raise double-takeout to score three for a 9-8 win over P.E.I.

Manitoba second Adam Casey pegged the chances of making it at about one in 50.

“It was kind of just a Yahtzee,” he said. “We were really happy to come out with that one.”

In morning play, New Brunswick beat Steve Laycock of British Columbia 6-3 and Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories topped Yukon’s Thomas Scoffin 9-7. Northern Ontario dumped Quebec 9-2 in the other afternoon matchup.

Draw 11 was scheduled for Tuesday night. The top four teams in each pool will advance to the championship round starting Thursday.

The four-team Page playoffs start Saturday and the final is set for Sunday.

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