Roar of the Rings notebook: Gushue flying high into playoffs

Listen as Jennifer Jones and Rachel Homan comment ahead of the Roar of the Rings.

OTTAWA — Brad Gushue is flying high again heading into the Roar of the Rings playoffs.

Friday night’s battle between the past two men’s world champions — and a rematch of the previous two Brier finals — turned out to be a rather anticlimactic affair with their playoff positions at the Canadian Olympic curling trials already determined.

Still, Gushue’s 6-3 victory over Kevin Koe was all about maintaining the momentum his St. John’s, N.L., team has been building all week as they head into the next round.

“You really don’t want a letdown because we’re kind of trending in the right direction and you just want to keep that going,” Team Gushue second Brett Gallant said. “We wouldn’t have thought at the start of the week or even midweek that the game would be rather meaningless.

“It’s still nice to win but you wouldn’t have expected that. It just turned out that way. We just wanted to stay sharp and keep playing the way we’ve been playing.”

The reigning world champ Gushue (6-2) is looking more like the squad that swept its way through the Tour Challenge Tier 1 and Masters tournaments earlier this season having now won four consecutive games leading into Saturday’s semifinal against Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen. Meanwhile, the 2016 world gold medallist Koe (7-1) was also riding the wave and finally sustained a blemish to his stellar record.

“We might have approached it with a little less intensity than we normally would but we still wanted to make our shots and play an entertaining game for the crowd,” Gallant said. “It was a great crowd tonight so it was cool.”

The chase was on to start and Koe climbed ahead 2-1 with a deuce in the third, but his lead was short-lived as Gushue took two back in the following frame.

The teams alternated singles in five and six and Gushue extended his advantage to 5-3 on a steal in the seventh stanza when Koe gave his last rock draw just a little too much juice. Gushue, who captured the 2006 Olympic gold medal, grabbed another stolen point in nine as Koe attempted a triple takeout hitting off of two from the 12-foot circle but missed the third counter by the button completely. The shot was just too tricky to pull off, even for a sharpshooter like Koe, and those steals proved to be the difference-makers.

“It was a bit of cat-and-mouse,” Gallant said. “There weren’t any ends that had a lot of rocks in play or anything but there were a few nice hit-and-rolls made by each team and some nice draws to force. We played a pretty good game and we got a little break there to steal in nine when he tried the triple for two.”

Koe had nothing to lose in the game by holding the berth straight to Sunday’s championship game to determine Canada’s representative for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Calgary-based Team Koe hold all of the key cards with a crucial day off after playing a week straight of games plus the all-important hammer and rock colour choice for the championship game.

Hometown hero Rachel Homan and Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones also faced off in a game that was expected to be more dramatic than it actually was with both of their playoff fates sealed as well.

Entering the day, it was possible there could have been a four-way tie for first but the women’s playoff picture was all cleared up by the afternoon. Calgary’s Chelsea Carey defeated Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., 5-2 during the morning draw to earn the No. 1 seed and the bye to the final while the decision also secured Homan a spot in the semifinal. McCarville had to play in back-to-back draws and lost her final game as well in a 7-6 heartbreaker giving up a steal in the extra end to Edmonton’s Val Sweeting.

Hammer and rock colour choice were still up for grabs in the Homan-Jones match plus sending a message to the other side (if you believe in mind games).

It was Homan who struck first and scored a convincing 9-4 victory over Jones that sent the already electric Canadian Tire Centre crowd into high voltage territory.

Other than a three-spot in the sixth for Jones, the game was all Homan, who opened with a deuce in the first to set the tone and rolled from there. Up 3-1 after three, Homan stole a pair in the fourth, counted another couple in seven and swiped two more in eight.

Homan and Jones head into the semifinal in opposite directions. Jones, who won her first five games of the tournament and 19 in a row overall, has now lost three straight while Homan is cruising along with a seven-game winning streak since dropping her opening match to Carey.

The reigning world champion Homan will start with the hammer once more in the semifinal and the defending gold medallist Jones will have to find something to steer the ship back on course with her back now against the wall. Otherwise, there will be not only a new Canadian Olympic women’s team but also a new Winter Games champion.

Carey (8-0) closed her round-robin schedule by keeping her perfect record intact with a 10-3 rout over Michelle Englot’s Winnipeg-based team in the afternoon draw.

If Brendan Bottcher was going out he was taking Reid Carruthers down with him.

Bottcher was looking to play the spoiler after his defeat at the hands of McEwen earlier eliminated him from playoff contention. The Edmonton native Bottcher needed an extra end to solve Carruthers but pulled it off with an 8-7 victory.

A win for Carruthers would have meant he’d face McEwen in an all-Winnipeg team tiebreaker and the victor there meeting Gushue.

Carruthers had the hammer but was left stunned in the second end when an opportunity to go two up saw a four-point swing into two down as he jammed his last and his shooter roll out. The week was a total grind for Carruthers so it was no surprise when the 2016 Canada Cup champion was down 6-3 after seven and managed to erase the deficit scoring a deuce in eight, forcing Bottcher to one in nine and counting another couple in the 10th for overtime.

Carruthers had two counters but Bottcher was able to draw into the four-foot circle with the last rock of the game regardless to end his opponent’s Olympic hopes.

Everybody’s a winner (at least once).

No team went winless through the Roar of the Rings as Toronto’s Allison Flaxey ended on a high note picking up her first victory by defeating Julie Tippin of Woodstock, Ont., 9-3. Flaxey finished last with a 1-7 record while Tippin, who was the final qualifier for the event via pre-trials, wound up just above her in the standings at 2-6.

There was more than just pride on the line: There’s also a case of beer with Flaxey’s name on it at the upcoming Ontario Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Whitby, Ont.

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