KAMLOOPS, B.C. — Alberta’s Kevin Koe again grabbed a share of top spot in the standings Wednesday night at the Canadian men’s curling championships with a 10-5 win over Ontario’s Greg Balsdon.
Alberta sits at 8-1, just like B.C.’s John Morris, at the Tim Hortons Brier in Kamloops, B.C..
With B.C., Alberta and 7-2 Manitoba jockeying for the top three spots, what’s likely left is a duel for the fourth and final playoff position with Balsdon sitting at 4-4.
On paper it’s still possible to crack the top three and Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock has the best shot, sitting at 5-3 after an 8-5 win over Eddie MacKenzie from Prince Edward Island.
Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard also improved to 4-4 with an 8-3 win over winless Nova Scotia’s Jamie Murphy.
On the outside looking in, New Brunswick’s James Grattan sits at 4-5 after beating the Territories Jamie Koe 8-3, leaving Koe at 3-6.
In morning and afternoon play, Morris and B.C. scored a big five in the third end and coasted to an 8-3 win in eight over Ontario’s Balsdon at the Tim Hortons Brier.
But Morris still had his eyes firmly focused on Thursday morning, when a win over Manitoba would guarantee him a spot in the one-two game of the playoffs.
“We want that one-two game,” he said. “If we win tomorrow morning we’re in the one-two game.”
Ontario and Saskatchewan weren’t quite eliminated from the third spot, at least in theory, but they would need to win out with games left against the leaders, starting with Ontario vs. Alberta Wednesday night.
The hometown crowd has been loud and proud as Morris and Kamloops native Jim Cotter have shot the lights out since their one early loss in the fourth draw to Quebec. Those fans did the best to raise the roof after Cotter tapped an Ontario stone out to score that five.
“It was a real tough shot but it’s a crowd pleaser and it’s a real lift for our team, so it’s exciting,” said Morris.
Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton continued to keep the leaders in sight with a 7-4 win over Steve Laycock of Saskatchewan. That left Manitoba at 7-2 and Saskatchewan at 4-3, tied with Ontario.
Stoughton and third John Mead looked a lot more in control, although they also benefited from Laycock’s mistakes.
“We got a great deuce in the first end and then it was pretty mistake free,” he said. “A lot of great shots made, you have to do that, and it felt pretty good all around for all of our guys.”
Stoughton got a chance to rest Wednesday night but he’s just as keen as Morris to win Thursday morning and get into that one-two game.
“We place B.C. which is a huge game for us. We play them in the morning and that could mean getting into the one-two game which is very important.”
They then face Balsdon and Ontario and the rookie has made a strong showing at his first Brier.
He lost to Morris in a disappointing performance at the Olympic Trials in Winnipeg in December. Morris went on to the final where he lost to Brad Jacobs.
Cotter, who throws fourth stones for B.C., has gained a lot of confidence and it shows, said Stoughton.
“I think John’s just brought so much confidence to that team. He’s made them believe that they’re a great team, which they obviously are.”
Morris was ranked as the top third (based on the stones he throws), Cotter the top skip and Rick Sawatsky the top lead in cumulative percentages after the first two draws Wednesday.
Only Manitoba second Mark Nichols stopped it from being a B.C. sweep.
In the other afternoon games, Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard forced 2006 Olympic champion Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador into an extra end in the afternoon draw Wednesday and Northern Ontario did the same to the Territories.