Brad Gushue (centre) watches his stone as Colton Lott (right) prepares to sweep during round-robin action in the Humpty's Champions Cup on April 26, 2019, in Saskatoon. (Anil Mungal)

Gushue gets by Koe and into Champions Cup playoffs

April 27, 2019, 1:17 AM

SASKATOON — Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., clipped Calgary’s Kevin Koe 7-5 Friday night to clinch a playoff spot in the Humpty’s Champions Cup.

Both teams advanced with 3-1 round-robin records and will meet again in a rematch with elimination on the line during Saturday afternoon’s quarterfinals at Merlis Belsher Place.

“It’s big,” Team Gushue lead Geoff Walker said. “It means probably a sleep-in in the morning because we may have been in a tiebreaker, I don’t know. A guaranteed quarters is always nice, it doesn’t matter who you play in playoffs, we know we’re going to get them again but we’re probably going to have to play them again along the way anyway to win the thing.”

Perhaps because it was the unlucky 13th draw why a few bizarre instances happened throughout the match with bad breaks on both sides right from the start.

Gushue opened with the hammer looking to blank the first. He connected with a runback on Koe’s counter and also aimed to roll out the raised stone but was forced to settle for a single as his rock stuck around in the rings.

After Koe hit for a deuce in two, Gushue eyed another blank in three but the measuring stick touched Koe’s pesky rock at the right side of the sheet. Team Gushue believed it was already out and it cost them as it counted for a steal to make it 3-1.

The 11-time Grand Slam champion Gushue got his tying deuce in four redirecting off his own and in to remove Koe’s shot rock although there was some minor controversy. The guard hit the sideboards and bounced back in to disrupt the other rocks in the house.

“It was probably my fault to get the rock but I’m watching the one going in,” Walker said. “Luckily, we were TV game so it makes it easy to tell and it was obviously us. If it was one of those ones where it wasn’t TV game, it could have been a little bit of a tough situation.”

Koe then ran into trouble giving up two and the lead in the fifth as his raised rock ran run through Gushue’s posts. The 2018-19 Pinty’s Cup winner Koe attempted to hit for two in six but slid right through the house to fall behind 6-3.

Koe got the deuce back in seven but whiffed again with his last in eight and sat just one counter barely biting the rings allowing Gushue to throw the final stone of the game practically anywhere in the house. Gushue drew and landed on the lid, seemingly just for fun, to put an exclamation mark on the match.

Walker knows they’re not going to catch the same breaks in the quarterfinals as they did in this one.

“We’ve just got to put some pressure on them,” said Walker, who was tops among all players in the game shooting 93 percent. “I like the way we played. Obviously, we got a bad break there in the third end when we measured the rock that we thought was out that was in. That shifted the game a little bit but the big steal of two is huge.

“You know you’re not going to get a lot of those misses out of Koe so we’re going to have to be a little bit sharper tomorrow for sure.”

A new rule is being tested at the event where teams cannot perform tick shots on rocks sitting on the centre line during the eighth and extra ends, which directly affected how Walker had to play the final frame.

“This would have been the game for us that we could have played [the tick] but you can’t so I’ve got to throw through,” Walker said. “We didn’t want to get too many rocks in play. You can try a tick but you’d hate to hit it in the wrong spot. It’s definitely different, especially in those close games coming home.

“We played an extra end yesterday and didn’t have hammer, so it was sort of nice. You can get those rocks on the centre line and not have to worry about them ticking them.”

Walker, who is from Alberta, and second Brett Gallant, from P.E.I., usually form the front-end “meat and potatoes” duo. Not this week, however, with Gallant away representing Canada at the world mixed doubles championship. Manitoba’s Colton Lott got the call to sub at second and Walker is enjoying the temporary “beef and bison” combo.

“He’s pretty quiet with me, so I’ve actually got to talk a little bit more. Usually, Brett does the talking for the two of us,” Walker said. “A little bit more communication from my end but he’s been great. He throws it hard. It’s fun to watch when he makes them like those two big doubles in the last end.”

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Elsewhere, Edmonton’s Team Brendan Bottcher (4-0) sharpened up for the playoffs with a 7-2 win ousting Winnipeg’s Team Reid Carruthers (1-3).

Saskatoon’s Team Kirk Muyres ended on a high note at 1-3 by beating Team John Epping from Toronto 4-3. Epping qualified with a 2-2 record and faces undefeated Team Niklas Edin (4-0) of Sweden in the quarterfinals.

Team John Shuster of the United States and Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat, both at 3-1, meet in the quarterfinals as well.

Team Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Regina’s Team Matt Dunstone also finished with 2-2 records but will have to face off in a morning tiebreaker for the final playoff spot against Bottcher.

In women’s tiebreakers, Team Alina Kovaleva of Russia topped Team Jamie Sinclair of the United States 9-6 in an extra end to advance.

Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones pulled off the double takeout to score two points in the eighth end to edge Team Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., 7-6.

“It’s always great to get into the playoffs,” Team Jones lead Dawn McEwen said. “That was a hard-fought battle, that tiebreaker. Super-entertaining for fans, I thought, lots of big shots on both sides and just happy we got the W.”

“When she makes her shots they’re usually pretty exciting,” she added. “We’re just happy to be in the playoffs now and start fresh tomorrow.”

The women’s quarterfinal bracket isn’t set quite yet as Calgary’s Team Chelsea Carey clashes in a morning tiebreaker with Winnipeg’s Team Allison Flaxey, who have Edmonton’s Laura Walker subbing at skip. The winner plays Sweden’s Team Anna Hasselborg in the quarterfinals. The reigning Olympic gold medallists have Scotland’s Eve Muirhead subbing at skip this week with Hasselborg away at the world mixed doubles championship.

Jones faces No. 1 seed Team Rachel Homan (4-0) of Ottawa, Kovaleva collides with Team Kerri Einarson (3-1) of Gimli, Man., and Team Robyn Silvernagle (3-1) of North Battleford, Sask., takes on world champions Team Silvana Tirinzoni (3-1) of Switzerland.

The final tiebreaker draw begins Saturday at 8:30 a.m. CST.

Broadcast coverage resumes with the women’s quarterfinals at 2 p.m. ET / Noon CST on Sportsnet 360 and online via Sportsnet NOW (Canada) and Yare (international).

The men’s quarterfinals take place at 6 p.m. ET / 4 p.m. CST (Sportsnet 360) followed by the men’s and women’s semifinals at 10 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. CST (Sportsnet 360).

Both finals are scheduled for Sunday.

Notes: The Humpty’s Champions Cup is the seventh and final Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event of the season featuring 15 men’s teams and 15 women’s teams who won high-profile events over the course of the season to qualify. … The total purse is $250,000, split evenly between the men’s and women’s divisions, with the winners earning $40,000.