Team Gushue with the championship trophy at the Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, Sask. (Anil Mungal)

Gushue pitches perfect game to win Canadian Open title

January 8, 2017, 4:01 PM

NORTH BATTLEFORD, Sask. — It’s safe to say Brad Gushue is back.

The St. John’s, N.L., skip threw a perfect 100 percent in the Meridian Canadian Open men’s final Sunday to defeat Sweden’s Niklas Edin 8-3 and capture his seventh career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling championship.

Gushue said it was a great way to put a “forgettable” 2016 behind him — missing eight events to start the season due to a hip/groin issue — and ring in the new year.

“It was a fun week,” said Gushue, who was competing in just his second tournament of 2016-17. “I thought we played really good. The best part for me, personally, was I started to get more comfortable and confident out on the ice. Leading into this event I wasn’t very confident at all.

“Definitely as each game went by I gained more and more confidence, I think the guys gained some more confidence in me and we just started rolling. Great game today. I thought we played really well and controlled it. The same last night. Hopefully we can continue that for a few more months.”

Edin was sharp all week qualifying for the playoffs through the A-side of the triple knockout at 3-0 and picked up wins over Brendan Bottcher in the quarterfinals and John Morris in the semis.

Gushue (6-1) went through the B-side with a loss to Brad Jacobs in the A-semifinals accounting for the lone blemish to his record. The 2006 Olympic gold medallist also pitched a perfect game against Steve Laycock in the quarterfinals and avenged the loss to Jacobs in the semifinals with a 4-0 shutout despite never holding the hammer in the game.

“Guys are so good,” Gushue said. “Niklas’ team played so well all week and look at the percentages they were all 90s, and Jacobs’ team is the same way and I can name three or four other teams as well. It’s really high-level curling right now and there are so many teams doing it.

“To win an event like this you have to be fortunate but you have to play at a really, really high level for a long time. We were able to do that this week.”

Edin opened the final with the hammer, but was forced to draw to the button for just a single in the first frame as Gushue sat two counters split outside the four-foot circle.

A big mistake by Edin in the second — double jamming with his last and killing his shooter — broke the game early allowing Gushue to seize control with a double on his final rock of the stanza to score four.

“Niklas, as he’d probably admit, made a bit of a mistake on his last one and hit it a little bit too thin and gave us a shot for four. If he makes that we’d probably get one, maybe two at the most,” Gushue said. “We didn’t expect that from Niklas and I know Niklas was frustrated after that one. That really changed the momentum of the game. I thought after that we really took control and didn’t give him many opportunities.”

It could have been game over early as Edin fell into trouble again in the third with Gushue sitting two buried. Edin avoided the steal with an amazing angle raise tap to get into the four-foot circle for one.

Gushue matched with a single in four to reclaim the three-point advantage. Edin pulled off another game-saving shot in the fifth, facing a triangle of counters and hit off one and in to get shot rock by an inch.

Gushue made a draw with his last in six and just barely missed his own guard to grab a piece of the button to score a three count with Edin on the ropes.

“We had an opportunity to steal in the third end, the fourth end was pretty basic and even in the fifth we had a chance to steal,” Gushue said. “He made some great shots to keep them in the game. Credit goes to my team they played so well today and set us up really well.”

The seventh was more of a victory lap for Gushue and Edin made a spin-o-rama with his last then shook hands.

Gushue, the 2006 Olympic gold medallist, earned his first Grand Slam title in 2010 with third Mark Nichols and the back-end duo have captured the other six over the past three seasons with second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker.

“This is a good team and they’ve all been with this team for the six of them. The credit goes to this group,” Gushue said. “We work well together, the guys are really skilled and you see that when I was gone how good they are. With me back in the lineup I think we’re an even better team. I like our chances any time we go out on the ice and when we’re playing well and playing confident like we are especially over the last two or three days we’re a pretty good team. But you do need some breaks and we got one today in the second end with Niklas.”

It was Edin’s third Pinty’s GSOC final of the season alone as his team has been on fire with five title victories. Edin earned his first career Pinty’s GSOC title at the WFG Masters last October and won his second just two weeks later at the Tour Challenge.

Gushue’s rising confidence bodes well for the team heading now into provincials as they look to represent Newfoundland and Labrador on home ice at the Tim Hortons Brier.

“That’s going to be a big event for us, a lot of pressure obviously,” Gushue said. “We want to make sure we can get through that because there are no guarantees. We’re going to re-shift our focus to that but again going back to me, personally, it’s given me a lot of confidence now that I’m on the other side of this injury.

“It’s probably just a matter of only a few more weeks before I feel 100 percent but even where I am now I can curl at a very high level. As I’ve mentioned in a few interviews this week I can’t use it as an excuse anymore, which is nice. It’s nice to be in that position where I can just start focusing on shots.”

NOTES: The Meridian Canadian Open is the fourth event and third major of the 2016-17 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season. … Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni takes on Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., in the women’s final at 4 p.m. ET on Sportsnet. … The next event on the Pinty’s GSOC schedule is the Princess Auto Elite 10 running March 16-19 in Port Hawkesbury, N.S. … Gushue earned $30,000 with the victory and clinched a berth to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup at the end of April in Calgary.