LONDON, Ont. — It was the 1-2 Page Playoff game at the Tim Hortons Brier with a berth in the national men’s curling championship on the line.
Yet in many ways, it had the same relaxed feel as a casual game at the local curling club.
It was evident during a break in Manitoba’s 7-6 victory over Newfoundland and Labrador on Friday night. Manitoba third Jon Mead moved two sheets over to help sweep a stone that the Brier mascot threw down the ice to get the crowd going at the John Labatt Centre.
Skip Jeff Stoughton couldn’t resist getting in on the fun, and raced over to help for the final 20 feet. The rock ended up on the button and the crowd roared its approval.
Seconds later, the game on Sheet C was back on and Stoughton was on his way to victory.
“We want to soak it up, have fun and relax,” Stoughton said. “It’s the way we roll.”
Stoughton stole one in the ninth end but Gushue tied it up again in the 10th after a measurement. Stoughton had the hammer in the extra end and drew to the button for the win.
“I let it go and thought it was going to be really close, they said it was there and it was perfect,” Stoughton said. “It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s what you want to be able to do as a skip.”
As for being one win away from the championship, Stoughton could hardly contain his excitement.
“It’s frickin’ unbelievable,” Stoughton said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
At times, it was hard to tell that this was an important game. There were some tense moments but the players looked really relaxed, loose and confident and genuinely seemed to be having fun. It was two rinks going back and forth, giving it their all and enjoying themselves at the same time.
Gushue now has to play in the semifinal on Saturday night (TSN, 7:30 p.m. ET) against the winner of the 3-4 game between Ontario’s Glenn Howard and Alberta’s Kevin Martin (TSN, 2:30 p.m. ET).
Gushue looked good early on, scoring two in the third end for a 3-1 lead. Stoughton got one back in the fourth on a draw to the button.
“It looked like every break in the book was going their way for the first four ends,” Stoughton said. “We just had to keep battling back.”
After a scoreless fifth end, Gushue could only grin when his runback attempt in the sixth didn’t work and Stoughton stole one to pull even. Gushue responded with a takeout in the seventh to score two, a lead Stoughton wiped out with two of his own in the eighth end.
Gushue, who won Olympic gold in 2006, didn’t look like he was feeling the pressure at all. He’s the only one of the four skips in the playoffs without a Brier title on his resume.
“It’s disappointing to lose but it was a fun game,” Gushue said. “It was tight right down to the last shot, he drew the button. He drew it cold with no backing so it was a good shot for him to win.”
Stoughton, who won a world title in 1996, will be confident Sunday night when he will go for his third Brier title.
“I’ve been telling everyone from the start,” Stoughton said. “We’re only here for one thing and that’s to win this Brier.”
Stoughton added he’s looking forward to having a day off before taking on the semifinal winner on Sunday night.
“It’s a long two days but we’re pretty loosey goosey so we’ll probably be OK,” he said.
A bronze medal game will be held Sunday afternoon between the semifinal loser and the loser of the 3-4 game.
Notes: An even 6,000 fans took in the action, pushing the overall attendance to 84,632. … Newfoundland and Labrador third Mark Nichols announced before the round robin that he’ll take a break from competitive curling at the end of the season. Nichols has curled with Gushue for the past 13 years. … Stoughton won his last national title in 1999 — Manitoba hasn’t won the Brier since.