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Gushue rink breathes sigh of relief at Olympic curling trials

Brad Gushue delivers a rock during his first game against John Epping at the 2017 Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Curling Trials Saturday night in Ottawa.
Brad Gushue delivers a rock during his first game against John Epping at the 2017 Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Curling Trials Saturday night in Ottawa.

It wasn’t their best performance in an otherwise brilliant season to date, but Brad Gushue and the curlers from St. John’s played well enough Sunday evening to secure a 6-5, extra end win over Brendan Bottcher of Alberta at the Roar of the Rings.

More importantly, Gushue, Mark Nichols, Summerside’s Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker avoided a second straight loss in Ottawa, which would have a spelled a whole heap of trouble considering the deep and talented field of nine in the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials at Canadian Tire Centre.

“Yes,” smiled Gushue, perhaps with a sigh of relief, “1-1 sure sounds better than 0-2.”

Gushue dropped his opening game Saturday night, 6-4 to Toronto’s John Epping on a steal in the 10th end. It wasn’t a very good showing by Gushue and Co., which entered the bonspiel with a 32-5 record this season, but arrived in Ottawa with two straight losses.

Not that this modest losing skid was cause for alarm, but given the way Gushue has been playing this season, three straight setbacks (which includes the Epping loss) was approaching Washington Generals territory.

“There was improvement, for sure,” he said of the win over Bottcher. “I still think we have another notch to bring it up. I still made some mistakes, but the biggest thing last night was our misses were big misses and we got nothing out of it. We had a couple of those today, but definitely a lot less than last night.”

Sunday’s game against Bottcher was still far from textbook, with both teams trading single points in the second and third ends. Gushue’s big break came in the fourth when Bottcher missed an easy takeout, giving the Newfoundland and Labrador team a steal of two.

From there, it was pretty much an exchange of single points before Bottcher, who advanced to the Trials after winning B section at the Pre-Trials last month in P.E.I., forced an extra end with a deuce in nine.

Gushue won the game with a draw to the button.

“We played the whole (extra) end to give myself the in-turn draw,” he said. “I knew that path really well, drawing to the button two or three times during the game.

“The guys knew that was the shot I wanted. There’s nothing worse than them doing everything they can to leave it for you, and missing it.

“But the draw weight was in my back pocket, and no doubt the win was a confidence boost. But, still, we have to clean up some stuff. But I do like the step I took today.”

Against Epping Saturday night, Team Gushue lost it in the 10th end, missing a whole bunch of shots. Stats, especially in curling, are always subjective but against Epping, Gushue and Nichols curled 79 and 78 per cent, whereas Epping and his vice, Matthew Camm, curled 86 and 93 per cent.

The result was cause for team meeting back at the hotel late Saturday night.

“The thing is, when we actually looked back on it, we played pretty good,” he said. “It’s just that our misses were big. We were heavy when we should have been light, wide when we should have been tight, things like that.

“It was really about smartening up on each thought, realizing where the tolerance was to miss. We did a lot better today. We still had some misses, but we’re getting there.”

Until Saturday, the team hadn’t played since Nov. 18, when it was bounced from the quarter-finals at the Boost National in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

“Last night,” he said, “we weren’t sharp the first time out there in a couple of weeks, and we missed a lot the wrong way.

“Hopefully, we can get back into the flow where we’re making everything and we don’t need to worry about it.

“But,” he added with a smile, “not many teams get into that zone for an extended period of time.”

Gushue has a pair of games today at 10 a.m. AT against John Morris, and 8 p.m. AT against Brad Jacobs.

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