PEI hands Team Canada its first loss at Brier

Team Canada skip Pat Simmons makes a shot at the Tim Hortons Brier. (Justin Tang/CP)

OTTAWA — Newfoundland and Labrador’s Brad Gushue appears to have everything in place to make a run at capturing that elusive Tim Hortons Brier title.

He has picked up some big wins this season and is skipping the top-ranked team in the country. Gushue is off to a great start at the national men’s curling championship and looks primed to be in the mix come playoff time.

His 13th career Brier appearance might just prove lucky. Gushue improved to 3-1 on Monday with a 7-5 victory over Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock.

"I think whoever wins is going to get some breaks and obviously play well," Gushue said. "It would be really nice to win with a field like this because you know you’ve beaten all the best teams."

This year’s field is considered one of the most stacked in recent memory.

Gushue opened with a 5-4 victory over Manitoba’s Mike McEwen before dropping a 4-3 decision to Ontario’s Glenn Howard. Gushue bounced back with a 6-3 win over Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories before topping Laycock.

There are no easy draws in round-robin play this year.

"In my career in the Brier, you always get two or three games where you may not have to play your best to win. We don’t have that this week," Gushue said. "It’s more like a (Olympic) Trials or a Canada Cup in that every game is going to be a grind. It’s going to be a really exhausting week I think, mentally, physically and emotionally.

"You’re going to have some losses and you’ve got to deal with those and just try to come out at the end of the week."

Gushue reached the curling pinnacle in 2006 by winning Olympic gold at the Turin Games. He has come close at the Brier on occasion, taking silver in 2007 and bronze in 2011.

Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker are finishing their second full season together as a foursome.

"He’s just got that fire to go and be the best," Nichols said. "There’s no fear to play against any teams. He knows that he’s good enough to keep up with anyone out there and he knows that our team is good enough to keep up with any other team out there too.

"That makes a big difference."

After seven draws, Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs was the lone unbeaten team at 4-0 after a 10-6 win over Canada’s Pat Simmons. Alberta’s Kevin Koe beat brother Jamie Koe 8-7 in the afternoon and then topped McEwen 9-4.

The Alberta skip was alone in second place at 4-1 while Gushue was in third at 3-1.

Howard defeated New Brunswick’s Mike Kennedy 9-6 to move into a tie at 3-2 with Simmons, who dropped a surprise 6-4 decision to Prince Edward Island’s Adam Casey earlier in the day.

"In this Brier, if you give an inch — and we gave a few out there — they’re going to bite you," said Canada third John Morris. "It doesn’t matter what team you’re playing."

McEwen and B.C.’s Jim Cotter were at 2-2 while Laycock moved to 2-3 after topping Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard 7-3 in the evening.

Round-robin play continues through Friday morning.

"I think we’re one of the favourites, one of a group of four, five, six or seven teams," Gushue said. "It’s nice to be in that but I don’t think we’re coming in here with people gunning for us.

"I think they’re gunning for everybody."

Quebec, New Brunswick and P.E.I. were at 1-3 and Jamie Koe remained winless at 0-4.

The playoffs start Friday night and the medal games are scheduled for Sunday. The Brier champion will represent Canada at the men’s world curling championship next month in Basel, Switzerland.

Notes: Team Canada wore camouflage uniforms for both draws on Support Our Troops Day at TD Place. Many fans wore red clothing to show support for the Canadian Armed Forces. … Announced attendance was 3,436 for the afternoon draw and 4,112 for the evening.