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Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador tops Alberta's Bottcher 7-3 to win Brier


KINGSTON, Ont. — The usual hype didn't accompany Brad Gushue's Newfoundland and Labrador team to the Tim Hortons Brier this time around.

They weren't considered the favourite this year. Other teams were mentioned ahead of them.

The perceived slight put a chip on the team's shoulder. The competition ended up paying for it. 

Gushue was steady over the first week and raised his game on the weekend, capping the effort with a clinical 7-3 victory over Alberta's Brendan Bottcher in Sunday night's final at the Leon's Centre.

"I thought it was almost a perfectly executed game on our behalf from a strategic standpoint and from a shotmaking standpoint," Gushue said. "You couldn't ask for a better effort."

Gushue beat Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs in the 3-4 Page playoff and topped Saskatchewan's Matt Dunstone in the semifinal.

It was Gushue's third national title in four years. Teammates Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker will join him as Team Canada at the March 28-April 5 world men's curling championship in Glasgow, Scotland.

Bottcher, meanwhile, rolled through the preliminary and championship rounds before beating Dunstone in the 1-2 Page playoff. 

He looked like a good bet to hoist the tankard after falling short in the final the last two years. But a poor start proved costly and Gushue never looked back.

"We certainly didn't play our best early and you can't give that big of a lead to those guys," Bottcher said.

The pundits who didn't peg Gushue as a main contender would be proven wrong. He said the team was bothered by it and used it as motivation.

"I think it just brings the most out of us," he said. "It brings that little bit of extra intensity and focus and that give-a-shit feeling. We wanted it bad."

The final was a rematch of the 2018 championship in Regina. Gushue beat Bottcher 6-4 that year to defend the title he won on home ice in St. John's.

Bottcher, a native of Sherwood Park, Alta., and teammates Darren Moulding, Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin lost last year's final to Kevin Koe.

Alberta was the first seed here after finishing the championship round at 10-1. Newfoundland and Labrador was seeded third at 8-3.

However, Bottcher's team seemed a little off from the start of the final. 

Alberta gave up a rare steal when Bottcher flashed a stone in the opening end and he ticked a guard in the second to set up a force.

"I was really surprised," Gushue said. "I expected him to come out guns blazing."

Bottcher's woes continued in the third end when a rubbed guard set up Gushue for a double-takeout for three points.

"I think we got a little bit fooled early," Bottcher said. "The conditions were a little different than what we'd seen and that unfortunately was the difference."

Newfoundland and Labrador kept the pressure on in the fourth by forcing Bottcher to draw against four. The Alberta skip ticked a stone and just rolled in as Gushue took hammer with a 4-2 lead.

Bottcher started to settle in near the game's midway point. He finally connected for a nice double in the fifth, forced Gushue to a single in the sixth and made another double to blank the seventh. 

But Newfoundland and Labrador never lost control.

And with Gushue a model of consistency — shooting at a game-high clip of 97 per cent — Alberta was constantly playing defence.

Gushue essentially sealed the victory in the eighth end with a steal. After forcing Bottcher to draw for one in the ninth, Gushue made a hit for the win in the 10th.

"It feels absolutely incredible," he said. "To win in this field, which I believe is probably the strongest field I've certainly played in (over) 17 Briers, to come through and to play the game we played today, that's special to play our best game in the final."

Newfoundland and Labrador shot 86 per cent overall. Bottcher was the low man at 71 per cent and his team shot 80 per cent.

"I'm just proud of the guys," Moulding said. "I just wish it would have turned out different. I know we can play a lot better than that. We did our best."

This was the 17th career Brier appearance for Gushue, who won Olympic gold in 2006. His current lineup is in its fifth season together. 

Bottcher, a 2012 world junior champion, made his Brier debut in 2017.

"Nobody's ever been able to come back like we have every time," Moulding said. "I feel like we can do it again. It's hard. It's really hard to do it. I know we're capable of winning this event."

Gushue defeated Dunstone 7-6 in the semifinal earlier in the day.

Newfoundland and Labrador decided it would give up a game-tying deuce so it could have hammer coming home. The decision paid off when Gushue drew for a single point and the win.

"It's tough. You come so close," Dunstone said, fighting back tears. "We woke up this morning thinking we were going to be Brier champions."

The two-time Canadian junior champ made his Brier debut two years ago as vice-skip for Steve Laycock's Saskatchewan rink.

The province's last Brier title came in 1980 when Rick Folk beat Northern Ontario's Al Hackner.

"They're going to have lots and lots of chances to win one of these," Gushue said of the 24-year-old Dunstone. "There's no doubt in my mind that he is going to win one and probably multiple (titles) over the course of his career.

"He's that good. So hopefully he keeps his head up high."

Gushue will return as Team Canada at the 2021 Brier in Kelowna, B.C., and also earned a berth in next year's Olympic Trials in Saskatoon. 

The team gets $105,000 of the $300,000 total purse while Bottcher's rink picks up $65,000. Gushue's team also receives $169,440 in Sport Canada funding over two years.

Announced attendance was 5,029 for the final to bring the competition total to 96,076.

The women's world curling championship begins Saturday in Prince George, B.C. Kerri Einarson will represent Canada after winning the Scotties Tournament of Hearts last month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2020.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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