Canada rolls to win over Czech Republic at world men’s curling championship

Canadian lead Geoff Walker, left, Canada second EJ Harnden sweep as they take on the Czech Republic at the Men's World Curling Championship in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Canada’s Caleb Flaxey looks like his head is on a swivel from his perch on the coach’s bench at the world men’s curling championship. 

With notebook at the ready and binoculars by his side, the Team Brad Gushue coach is constantly monitoring the action on all four sheets at TD Place.

“These guys are arguably the best in the world but there’s always continuous improvement needed,” Flaxey said. “So it’s always finding the fine details that can help out quite a bit. 

“I’ve developed an eye for that over time.”

Flaxey has helped guide the Brad Gushue team to a 4-2 mark after four days of round-robin play. The latest victory was a comfortable 8-3 win over Lukas Klima of the Czech Republic on Tuesday.

Canada scored a deuce in the third end and pulled away with a steal of three points in the fourth.

Gushue, vice Mark Nichols, second E.J. Harnden and lead Geoff Walker were in a fifth-place tie with Japan’s Riku Yanagisawa entering the late draw.

“We’re still in a position where we control our own fate … that’s all we can do and we’ll see what happens,” Gushue said.

Three of the four Canadians shot over 90 per cent. Gushue finished at 94 per cent while Klima was at 78 per cent. 

“They’re kind of perfectionists and that’s what you need to be at the top,” Czech coach Craig Savill said of the host team. “You can’t settle for mediocre and you can’t settle for great. 

“You have to always be striving for perfection.”

Round-robin play continues through Friday night. The top six teams in the 13-team field will qualify for the weekend playoffs.

With longtime coach Jules Owchar not keen to travel outside of Alberta this season, the Gushue rink reached out to Flaxey last spring. 

Harnden, a new addition to the squad who had played with Flaxey and was coached by him for years, raised his name. Gushue decided to call him out of the blue. 

“We had quite the chat,” Flaxey recalled. “We probably chatted for nearly an hour just talking about curling, talking about the team and what they were looking for. 

“I must say I’m quite happy he gave me a call.”

Flaxey wasn’t sure what his coaching future might hold after the members of Team Brad Jacobs went their separate ways last year. 

The 39-year-old Toronto native is busy with his work at an optical business, but the chance to work with the St. John’s, N.L.-based side was too good to pass up.

“There would have only been a few opportunities that would have really excited me to do this,” Flaxey said. “So to get the call from Brad — really the best of all-time — it was definitely a situation that I wanted to be a part of.”

Gushue is 39-9 on the season and currently ranked fourth in the world.

“I would say he brings us a little bit of all the great coaches we’ve had over the years, all in one person,” Gushue said. “It’s nice. We trust him when he’s holding the broom for us to give us the feedback we want.”

During game action, Flaxey is studying rock orders, patterns and ice changes across the sheets. He also zeros in on the Canadian players for each throw.

“Caleb has a great mind for the game,” Harnden said. “He sees everything really well in terms of strategy and ice conditions and does a phenomenal job with rocks. 

“He also just has the ability to be able to say the right thing at the right time, and be very mindful of when to say something, when not to and how to say it.”

In other games Tuesday afternoon, defending champion Niklas Edin of Sweden (6-0) defeated Japan 9-6. Germany’s Sixten Totzek beat Turkey’s Ugurcan Karagoz 9-6 and Italy’s Joel Retornaz dropped a 9-8 decision to Norway’s Magnus Ramsfjell in an extra end. 

After 10 draws, Norway and Switzerland’s Yannick Schwaller were tied in second place at 5-1. Scotland’s Bruce Mouat was next at 4-1 and Italy was alone in seventh place at 3-3.

Medal games are scheduled for Sunday.

Gushue’s schedule will pick up starting Wednesday when he begins a run of three straight two-game days. He’ll play in the morning and evening each day and still has some notable competition to come.

Canada will play 2018 Olympic champ John Shuster of the United States on Wednesday night, Scotland on Thursday and Sweden in the round-robin finale Friday evening.

“I think the best part is the team is in a pretty good mood,” Flaxey said. “We’ve been fairly relaxed throughout this event, so that’s good. 

“The nerves might have been a bit edgier in the first few days but I think we’re finding our groove.”

Gushue, who won Olympic gold in 2006, has settled for silver at his last two world championship appearances. His lone world title came in 2017 at Edmonton.

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