Nichols skips Team Gushue into Stu Sells Toronto playoffs

Mark Nichols of Team Gushue at the 2015 Meridian Canadian Open in Yorkton, Sask. (Anil Mungal)

TORONTO – The “Battle of the Brads” it wasn’t, but Saturday’s powerhouse match-up between Team Gushue and Team Jacobs for a spot in the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard playoffs was an entertaining affair regardless.

With Brad Gushue missing his fourth event to start the season due to a lingering left hip injury, third Mark Nichols powered the St. John’s team through the A side qualifier with a 7-3 victory over the 2014 Olympic gold medallists.

Nichols, who captured Olympic gold with Gushue in 2006, has stepped up his game skipping in the interim as the team has qualified for the playoffs in all four tournaments with an overall 16-4 record.

“Any time you come out on top of a game against the Olympic champs it’s always a good thing,” Nichols said.

After a blank in the first end, Nichols hit and rolled buried with his first skip stone in the second to split the rings and set the table for a deuce and a 2-0 lead.

Brad Jacobs, of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., was held to a single in three to get on the board before Nichols pulled away with an open draw for three in the fourth and a 5-1 lead at halftime.

Jacobs capitalized on a Nichols miss to take two in the fifth end and narrow the gap 5-3.

Nichols had another opportunity for multiple points in six that could have iced the game. His shot just missed narrowly, but he was still able to count a single.

“It was a shot to win the game really,” Nichols said. “Whenever you have a chance against those guys you have to go for it. I missed it by a half-inch, if that, and luckily enough we still got one. We were up three with two ends to play; we were still in a good position. It was a risk-reward thing but it worked out for us.

“That was our goal. We wanted to make sure we scored in that end. Obviously you have to take the shot for multiple points but you err on the side of making sure you score at least your one.”

Jacobs looked to make a double takeout with his last in seven, but he jammed Nichols’ raised stone on the second counter in the back of the house to give up a steal and the two teams shook hands.

SPENCER ENJOYING SUPER SPARE ROLL

Adam Spencer is filling in at third on Team Gushue during the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard while second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker remain in their front-end spots.

Spencer also subbed with the team last month at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard and said the experience playing with the No. 1 ranked team on the World Curling Tour has been great.

“They’re super nice guys,” Spencer said. “I was sort of semi-retired and playing a little bit with Team Bice. It’s nice to actually get a few games at a high level before I get to play with those guys.”

Spencer, from Guelph, Ont., is also enjoying his time in Toronto and plans to take his wife out for dinner in town Saturday night then relax and get ready for Sunday night’s quarterfinals.

“It’s pretty cool. Tonight will be the real test because we’re actually going to go out somewhere in Toronto,” he said. “I always love coming to High Park. This is my favourite spiel of the year for sure. I love the atmosphere here, it’s well run and the people are great. It’s awesome.”

GUSHUE SCORES BLUE JAYS TICKET

Gushue is in town supporting the team, however, he will be bailing on them Sunday night as he managed to score an elusive ticket to Game 3 of the ALDS between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre.

“He doesn’t get to play but he’s going to get to go to the Jays game so not always bad in his world for the next 24 hours I guess,” Nichols said with a laugh.

QUICK HITS

– Jacobs dropped to the B side of the triple knockout preliminary round and plays Saturday night against Team Balsdon.

– Denmark’s Rasmus Stjerne also qualified for the playoffs through the A side. The 2016 world silver medallist earned a 5-3 victory Saturday over Pierre-Luc Morisette of Quebec.

– The Stu Sells Toronto Tankard continues to Monday afternoon with the men’s and women’s finals.