Eight Ends: Denmark hangs tough but Canada has right stuff in curling opener

Canada’s skip Brad Gushue throws a rock during preliminary round action against Denmark Wednesday, February 9, 2022 at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. (Ryan Remiorz/CP)

Eight Ends is your daily one-stop shop for all things curling with news, notes, insight and analysis through the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing. We can't explain the New Kids on the Block references, they just happened but be glad we didn't change the names of the ends to steps.

First End: A "Gu" start for Team Canada as Brad Gushue and his crew from St. John's, N.L., doubled up on Denmark's Mikkel Krause 10-5 during the opening round of the men's curling tournament Wednesday at the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. It was not only Gushue's first game of the event, but also his team's first game since winning the Canadian Olympic curling trials back in late November. Although the play on the ice wasn't perfect, it was the perfect way to start given the somewhat long layoff, and a good thing they didn't have a heavyweight tilt off the bat against Great Britain or Sweden or even face a tricky opponent like Switzerland who can frustrate.

Canada outshot Denmark in the team percentages 82-75. When Team Gushue isn't at their very best but merely good, that's usually good enough to beat teams much lower in the rankings. That's just the reality when you have one team ranked No. 2 in the world and another who's ranked No. 69.

Second End: Gushue has often talked about how key it is for Brett Gallant to be at his best (source: just about every interview I’ve done with Gushue) and the second P.E.I. gets going, it sparks the rest of the team. Why not Geoff Walker? The Alberta lead is steady as he was here throwing a game-high 95 per cent with perfectly placed tick shots that opened up the middle lanes. Gallant threw 68 per cent on his seven draws and 86 per cent on nine takeouts to finish at 78 per cent for the game and edge Danish counterpart Henrik Holtermann at 77 per cent. Considering it was their first game — both of the tournament and in a while — plus Gallant's Olympic debut, that's pretty impressive and also leaves some room for improvement.

Third End: Although Denmark secured hammer to start, Canada got on the scoreboard first with a steal in the opening end. Team Gushue third Mark Nichols changed the entire makeup of the frame with a triple takeout, and Gushue's last rock had them sitting five stones in the house with a clustered trio in the four-foot circle. Klause was able to draw in and shuffle to cut the damage down to one though and avoid an early disaster.

Fourth End: Denmark kept pace through the first half, scoring deuces in the second and fourth ends, but you could see some small defensive struggles here and there that kept mounting. Krause also took a chance (on me? My bad, ABBA is Swedish) in the sixth end, down by one, looking at a chance to score three. He misaligned the raise attempt and ended up handing Canada two points.

After Krause hit a double by the button to score one in the seventh, those defensive struggles turned critical in the eighth. Krause’s last rock was left exposed enough for Gushue to knock it out and the shooter slid over to nudge another one of his own stones that took out Denmark’s second rock for a count of three. That also brought a “three count” to the match with Denmark conceding. Although Krause shot a game-low 64 per cent, his team didn't do him any favours putting him into numerous all-or-nothing situations.

Fifth End: Wrapping up the game in eight ends — much like wrapping up a curling column — is a good thing. That’s two fewer ends to have to play during a grind of a week and if you keep banking those you may end up saving yourself a whole game’s worth of wear and tear.

Sixth End: This is too good not to spend an end on. Denmark third Mads Noergaard is a human beatbox machine and has competed three times at nationals (yes competitive beatboxing is a thing). But of course, you don’t want to read what I have to say about him, you want to hear the man, right?

Seventh End: Up next, Gushue gets right back at it and continues his Scandinavian tour taking on Norway’s Steffen Walstad in the second men’s draw (Thursday 1:05 a.m. ET). Gushue and Walstad have only faced each other three times previously with Gushue winning all three matches including the 2017 Tour Challenge men’s final 7-1. In fact, the points for/against for those three games combined is 25-7.

Their last meeting was at the 2018 worlds and Walstad has since added veteran third Torger Nergaard, who previously played with Thomas Ulsrud winning Olympic silver in 2010 and world championship gold in 2014, plus Olympic gold in 2002 as the alternate to Pal Trulsen. He’s not a beatboxer but he has worn some funny pants in the past with Ulsrud.

Norway also opened with a victory, as an underdog, scoring two in the ninth and stealing one in the 10th to defeat Switzerland’s Peter de Cruz 7-4.

Eighth End: But first! The opening draw of the women’s tournament gets underway at 8:05 p.m. ET. Canada’s Jennifer Jones has a bye to begin and the 2014 Olympic champion faces South Korea’s Eun-Jung Kim in the second session Thursday at 7:05 a.m. ET.

Fortunately, Kim isn’t playing in the first women’s draw either, so they’ll be entering the game level both in the standings and in terms of what to expect when they step onto the ice. Coaches Viktor Kjell for Canada and Peter Gallant for South Korea will be counted upon to gather all available intel they can on the rocks. Don’t be surprised if the cameras catch them in the arena during the first women's draw or even the second men’s draw.

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