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Rock on: Gushue, Newfoundland one win away from elusive Brier title

Fans of Newfoundland and Labrador had plenty to celebrate during Friday's 1-2 Page Playoff game in the Tim Hortons Brier at Mile One Centre in St. John's.
Fans of Newfoundland and Labrador had plenty to celebrate during Friday's 1-2 Page Playoff game in the Tim Hortons Brier at Mile One Centre in St. John's.

It’s been a rock concert atmosphere at Mile Once Centre the last couple of nights, but Brad Gushue insists he and his Newfoundland and Labrador teammate aren’t on some sort of magical mystery tour.

Skip Brad Gushue (right) and members of Newfoundland and Labrador's team (from left) Brett Gallant, Mark Nichols and Geoff Walker celebrate their victory over Manitoba in the Page Playoff 1-2 game of the 2017 Brier at Mile One Centre Friday night.
Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue makes the call on a shot as Manitoba's Mike McEwen looks on during the Page Playoff 1-2 game of the 2017 Brier at Mile One Centre Friday night.

They are, however, maintaining their heading towards what they hope turns out to be a Canadian men’s curling championship.
“I don’t believe in any destiny or anything special.” said Gushue Friday night after Newfoundland once again booked its place in Sunday’s Tim Hortons Brier final with a 7-5 win over Mike McEwen’s Manitoba entry.
“(But) we can make all the shots that we call. (Tonight), we made a heck of a lot of them. Hopefully, we do the same thing on Sunday."
This will be the second straight Brier final for Gushue and teammates Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker. Last year, in Ottawa, they lost to Kevin Koe.
Manitoba and Newfoundland had finished on top of the 2017 Brier round-robin standings with 9-2 records, although the McEwen rink took first place by virtue of an 8-4 win in their head-to-head game. That provided last-rock advantage in the 1-2 Page Playoff game, but after forcing Manitoba to a single in the opening end, Gushue and Co. kept dictating the course of the game, wielding their own hammers with impunity.
“That was our best game all week,” Gushue agreed. “We controlled it right from the get-go. We didn’t make any mistakes … just a lot of good shots.”
McEwen, B.J. Neufeld, Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld can still find themselves in Sunday’s championship game, but will have to take an indirect route through tonight’s semifinal (8 p.m.) at Mile One. They’ll face the winner of a 3 p.m. matchup between Northern Ontario and Team Canada.
Koe’s defending champions and Brad Jacobs’ 2013 Brier winners finished third and fourth, respectively, in the round robin with 8-3 records.
Gushue said there isn’t one of the three other remaining teams that he would prefer to play or avoid on Sunday as he looks to skip Newfoundland to its second Brier title and first in 41 years.
“I just hope a guy doesn’t curl as well against us as Kevin Koe did last year,” he said, but agreed the 2016 experience will help and that his team should be more relaxed this time.
“We’re ready. I really believe we’re ready.”
They looked ready Friday, too, shooting 94 per cent as a team, with the skip just slightly better at 95. It made it tough for Manitoba to get any traction.
“We threw a lot of quality shots, but the margin of error was so small (because of) how well they were playing,” said McEwen. “We would have to be very close to perfect to beat them.”
Newfoundland took the lead in the second end by scoring two and never looked back. It could even have qualified as a turning point — Gushue was that much in control on this night — but most observers would probably point to the seventh end. That’s when McEwen tried to break up a pile after a fine hit-and-roll by Gushue, but ended up spilling his shots a little too far. Instead of scoring two points to tie the game, Manitoba gave up a steal and Newfoundland had a margin that was too much to erase.
“It was looking like a real good chance to tie it up,” McEwen said. “(Gushue’s) roll, you couldn’t have taken his rock and placed it there by hand any better. He made an absolutely perfect shot. We … played a shot we thought was there and it turned out it wasn’t.”
As was the case Thursday night when Gushue beat Koe in a round-robin draw, Mile One was packed and loud on Friday. And while the hometown team was in a groove on the ice, so were the fans in the stands, whose repertoire on this evening included a rousing “Sweet Caroline.”
"After the game, to see the amount of fans that stuck around for a couple of songs, it was pretty cool. It was a great atmosphere,” who in his 14th Brier, is relishing what’s so far been an exciting ride.
“Someone asked me how does this compare to the Olympics (when he won in 2006) and I said it’s probably just as good or as better just because I’m older and I appreciate it more.
“When I was 25, I thought I was going to win a bunch of these, but I’ve realized its a harder game over the last number of the years.”
Gushue, who has been dealing with a hip/groin injury that sidelined him the first part of this curling season, said he will be in for “lots of rehab” during a well-earned day off. So, apparently, will other members of his team.
"We’re a hurtin’ unit right now. Geoff’s in a little bit of discomfort and we’ll get some rest and be ready for Sunday,” Gushue said.
What he won’t be doing is watching either of today’s playoff games in person or on TV.
“I’m going to spend time with my family,” said the 36-year-old father of two, adding it’s been “kind of a tease” seeing them in a box at Mile One this week while he’s been so focused on his games.
“I won’t watch any curling. I haven’t watched any shots this week. I’ll find out probably Sunday morning who won and be ready to go.”

bmcc@thetelegram.com

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