ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — The pre-tournament favourites are playing like contenders this week at the Tim Hortons Brier.
The round robin has essentially gone as expected at Mile One Centre with top skips like Brad Gushue, Kevin Koe, Mike McEwen and Brad Jacobs battling for position near the top of the leaderboard.
Jean-Michel Menard and John Morris were also in the playoff hunt heading into the final draw Friday morning.
“I think that’s the way Canadian men’s curling is,” McEwen said. “You’ve got about a half dozen teams and if you run this over and over and over again, you might get six different winners depending on the week.”
No playoff matchups had been set after Thursday night’s games.
Gushue won twice on the day to give Newfoundland and Labrador (8-2) a spot in the Page playoff 1-2 game. Several scenarios are still in play and seedings are still up in the air for all four playoff spots.
If tiebreakers are needed, they will be played Friday afternoon.
Gushue thrilled near-capacity crowds with clutch draws for a pair of victories. He beat Ontario’s Glenn Howard 8-7 in an extra end in the afternoon before topping Koe 7-6 in similar fashion in the evening.
“That’s the loudest roar I think I’ve ever heard,” Gushue said after beating the defending champion.
Gushue will close out play Friday morning against Nova Scotia’s Jamie Murphy.
McEwen split his games to leave Manitoba at 8-2 after 16 draws. McEwen beat Howard 8-3 in the evening after dropping a 6-3 decision to Koe in the afternoon.
“It’s a very scoreboard management type of game against those guys because everybody is so good,” said Canada third Marc Kennedy. “Our skip played great again. Like our coach says, we’re learning how to win without playing our best. I think that’s something we’ve struggled with in the past.”
Manitoba shot 92 per cent overall while Canada was at 88 per cent. McEwen finished at 83 per cent, well behind Koe at 95 per cent.
“It wasn’t so much that we missed,” McEwen said. “It was they made some great ones.”
Northern Ontario (8-3) also reached the eight-win mark. Jacobs beat Saskatchewan’s Adam Casey 8-5 in the morning and then held off Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher 6-5.
Menard guided his Quebec team to a pair of wins to improve to 7-3. He beat New Brunswick’s Mike Kennedy 9-4 after topping Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories 8-6 in the morning.
Kevin Koe, also the reigning world champion, fell to 7-3. He will play Kennedy (1-9) on Friday.
“If we win, we’re guaranteed third and there are worse places to be,” Koe said.
Morris’s British Columbia rink (7-4) kept its playoff hopes alive with a 5-2 win over Bottcher and a 7-6 victory over Casey.
Casey fell to 5-6, Murphy was 4-6 and Howard was 3-7. Bottcher fell to 3-8 while Kennedy and Jamie Koe were tied at 1-9.
The 1-2 Page playoff game between the top two seeds will go Friday night. The winner will advance to Sunday’s gold-medal game while the loser will play in the semifinal Saturday night.
The third- and fourth-seeded teams will meet in the 3-4 Page playoff Saturday afternoon. The winner advances to the semifinal and the loser will play for bronze on Sunday.
The semifinal winner will play the 1-2 game winner for the championship.
The Brier winner will represent Canada at the men’s world curling championship next month in Edmonton.
Follow ↕GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.