Three teams claim Brier playoff berths, last spot comes down to last draw

The Page playoff between the top two seeds at the Canadian men’s curling championship showcases the best two teams of the preliminary round. Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs (10-1) and Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador (9-2) will square off Friday evening at the Tim Hortons Brier with the winner advancing directly to Sunday’s championship game.

CALGARY — The Page playoff between the top two seeds at the Canadian men’s curling championship showcases the best two teams of the preliminary round.

Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs (10-1) and Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador (9-2) will square off Friday evening at the Tim Hortons Brier with the winner advancing directly to Sunday’s championship game.

The loser can still get to the final, but has to win Saturday’s semifinal against the victor of the playoff between Canada’s John Morris (7-4) and the fourth seed to determined in the final round-robin draw Friday morning.

Because it’s a non-elimination game, that one-two game has the potential to be even better than the final, says Gushue. There’s less chance of missing routine shots because of nervousness and adrenaline.

“I actually think the calibre of game will probably be better because you do have a second life and the nerves probably aren’t going to be as extreme knowing that ’if I miss this, we’re eliminated,”’ the Newfoundland skip said.

“From watching it in the past, the one-two games are usually well-curled games, much better than the final and the semifinal because those are sudden death.”

Team Canada lost their last game of the preliminary round 6-3 to Jacobs for their first loss since John Morris moved to third and Pat Simmons took over as skip.

Gushue’s 7-4 win over Quebec’s Jean Michel Menard, however, assured the defending champions would finish among the top four teams as Quebec ended up 6-5.

Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock lost 8-7 in an extra end to Ontario’s Mark Kean. At 6-4, Laycock will either gain the third seed with a win over B.C.’s Jim Cotter on Friday morning, or fall to five losses with as many as three other teams in a tiebreaker scenario.

Menard was 6-5 and Cotter and Alberta’s Kevin Koe can also get to 6-5 on Friday.

Gushue’s 6-5 win over Jacobs on Thursday morning was Northern Ontario’s only loss and the result set the table for Friday’s duel. But Jacobs rebounded with the win over Canada at night.

As the top seed, the reigning Olympic champions will have hammer to start Friday’s game and first choice in selecting a set of rocks.

“It’s huge. I love that we have that,” Jacobs said. “Both are big. There was a lot to play for in that last game.

“The way we all showed up to the rink was like night and day compared to this morning. The intensity and the effort was there the entire game.

“Right now, we need this little break. We get almost 24 hours and this is going to serve our team really, really well.”

It will be the second one-two playoff game at the Brier for Jacobs. He lost to Glenn Howard in 2010 and was then beaten in the semifinal by Alberta’s Koe.

Jacobs and his current team of Ryan Fry, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden team claimed the fourth and final playoff berth two years ago in Edmonton. Jacobs played his way through to the final, beating Gushue in the three-four playoff game in an extra end.

Northern Ontario ended a 28-year drought and the Jacobs rink claimed their first Canadian title with an 11-4 victory over Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton.

Gushue is a career 1-1 in the playoff between the top two seeds. He defeated Glenn Howard in 2007 to get to the final, but lost the championship game to Stoughton. In 2011, he lost the one-two game to Stoughton and then lost in the semifinal to Howard.

“For me, it’s just an avenue to get into the final,” Gushue said. “You don’t want to rely on that semifinal game.

“If you can get it done in the one-two game it lets you breathe a little easier, it’s one less game on the body, one less game of pressure on the nerves. There’s a whole lot of benefits to winning that one-two game.”

The 34-year-old won Olympic gold in 2006 with current third Mark Nichols. Gushue has now skipped his team to the Brier playoffs for an eighth time in 12 appearances, but is still looking for his first Canadian title.

Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers fell out of tiebreak contention with an 8-7 loss to Alberta. He was tied at 4-6 with Ontario and Prince Edward Island’s Adam Casey. New Brunswick was 2-8.

At 0-10, Northwest Territories is relegated to the pre-tournament qualifier in 2016. The team from Northwest Territories must compete with Nova Scotia and Yukon to get into the main 12-team draw.

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