REGINA — Brad Gushue kicked off the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season with a bang capturing his eighth career championship in the series at the Tour Challenge.
The reigning world champion from St. John’s, N.L., downed Norway’s Steffen Walstad 9-1 in Sunday’s Tier 1 men’s final to finish the tournament undefeated at 7-0.
While the record was perfect and the team steamrolled through the round-round portion, Gushue survived a scare in Saturday’s quarterfinals needing an extra-end steal to beat Saskatoon’s Steve Laycock. Gushue bounced right back in his wins over Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., in the semifinals and Walstad in the championship game.
“It feels good,” said Gushue, who threw 97 percent in the final. “Our team played really good this week and obviously got lucky there in the quarterfinals but every other game we played, we played really solid and controlled it. It’s nice to win the Tour Challenge, haven’t won it before.”
Team Gushue collected $20,000 and qualified for the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup, running April 24-29 in Calgary and featuring all of the top winners of the year.
Gushue also became the first to win six different events in the series with just the aforementioned Humpty’s Champions Cup left to cross off the list. Seven of his titles have also come within the past three years with his current crew of third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker.
“It means we’re playing well at all different parts of the year, which is nice,” Gallant said. “We’re not going through too many lows because we’ve been in the playoffs pretty consistently and given ourselves a chance and when you keep giving yourself a chance you’re going to get yourself a few.”
“Obviously there are some great curlers that didn’t have the opportunity because some of these newer events have come on [recently] but the one that I’m really proud of is having won the four original ones because those have been around for 16 years,” Gushue added. “Now to add the Tour Challenge and the Elite 10 to that and hopefully we’ll add the Champions Cup in the near future, certainly proud of it. But more importantly playing against the top teams and anytime you can win against those guys is nice and gives you a lot of confidence going forward.”
Gushue opened with the hammer and had one point in his pocket sitting on the button sandwiched between two Walstad counters. Not satisfied with settling for a single, Gushue went for the angle double bump to roll into the button for a deuce.
“I think the focus was just on making our first eight shots of the game and try to put a little pressure on them,” Gallant said. “We got a couple misses out of them in the first end, which was helpful. Brad still had to make a great shot on his last to get two though. It’s nice to get our deuce and start the game that way and the second end we had a lot of breaks.”
“It was really a shot that was about the weight,” Gushue explained. “If I throw the proper weight I could have hit it in a number of different spots because the thinner I hit it the less I hit of the other one, so it was always going to come in with the same speed. I just had to make sure I threw the right weight and we nailed it perfectly, threw the perfect weight and it turned out nice.
“You always have to account for a little bit of luck in those but having played as much as we do, and seeing as many rocks, you give yourself a bit of a window of what weight to throw, but still when it all settles you hope you’re right and certainly in that situation we were. That really just comes down to experience, I think, being able to know what weight to throw on that shot.”
Walstad struggled in the second facing four on his last but added too much heat on his draw shot to give up a steal of three and fall deep into a 5-0 hole. A tap for a single in three put Walstad on the board, but Gushue continued to cruise drawing for two in the fifth.
Despite the six-point cushion, Gushue didn’t ease off of the pedal and forced Walstad to attempt a thin double in the sixth end that sailed through the house and iced the game.
Walstad reached the final on a sensational run in his series debut winning six straight games. The team includes third Markus Hoiberg, second Magnus Nedregotten and lead Magnus Vagberg. Gushue was somewhat familiar with the squad previously having played them overseas and in the world championship last season but didn’t want to underestimate the red-hot Walstad.
“We kind of knew what to expect but they seemed to be playing really good going in, so we knew we had to be sharp, I felt we were and Walstad and the guys were probably a little bit off,” Gushue said. “They had some misses that they certainly didn’t have earlier in the week and made it easier for us with the miss there in the second end, which blew the game open and ultimately, in the end, giving the steal of two sealed it.
“We controlled the game, we put pressure on him. We didn’t have any scares out there where we looked like we were going to give up a steal or a big end, which was nice, it was relaxing. The first end we made a really nice shot and put the moment on our side.”
Meanwhile, Jason Gunnlaugson edged William Lyburn 8-7 in an all-Winnipeg battle for the Tier 2 title. The team of Gunnlaugson, third Alex Forrest, second Ian McMillan and lead Connor Njegovan join the elite at the following Pinty’s GSOC event, the Masters, running Oct. 24-29 in Lloydminster, Sask.
Gunnlaugson made one of his trademark runbacks for a triple takeout on his first skip stone to set the table for an open tap for two on his last in the first end. Lyburn attempted an angle raise in the second but hit it the wrong way to concede a point.
Lyburn rebounded big time taking two points in the third, forced Gunnlaugson to one in four and hit to score four in the fifth to jump ahead 6-4.
Gunnlaugson bounced right back with a three count in the sixth to go back ahead 7-6. Lyburn tied it in seven and Gunnlaugson scored the winning point in eight.
Lyburn, one of the “Original 18” skips in the series, played this week with third Richard Daneault, second Jared Kolomaya and alternate Jim Coleman, who filled in for lead for Braden Zawada.