EDMONTON — Brad Gushue threw it for all it was worth.
But when you’re staring at six of your opponent’s stones clustered in the vicinity of the four-foot, a lot can go wrong and not much can go right and the result, as it was on this occasion, is usually predictable — disaster.
A terribly played eighth end by Newfoundland Wednesday night resulted in a four-ender for Manitoba, breaking open what had been a tense 5-5 contest and handing Manitoba a 9-5 victory in what was one of the most-anticipated games of the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier.
In a game that saw longtime former Gushue third Mark Nichols do battle against his former skip for the first time at the Brier as the new Manitoba lead, this one came down to Gushue having almost no shot when he went to throw his last in the eighth end — a desperate Hail Mary at a pack of Manitoba rocks that Gushue needed to throw so hard he slipped onto his side halfway through his delivery and simply flung it.
The Gushue stone removed two of the Manitoba counters but there were still four counting when Stoughton threw his last, one rock later. Game over.
"It was only good if I made four or five of them go away," said Gushue. "Even a triple wasn’t going to be good enough."
"Yeah, he was pretty hooped in that end," said Stoughton. "That’s for sure."
Stoughton improved to 6-1 with the win over Newfoundland and heads into Thursday’s action alone in third place, behind Newfoundland (7-1) and Ontario’s Glenn Howard, who at 7-0, is now the last remaining undefeated team in the field.
Howard kept his record intact Wednesday night with a 7-3 defeat of New Brunswick’s James Grattan and now has a 17-game Brier winning streak that dates back to last year, when he won his last 10 games of this event to capture his fourth Brier championship.
"It’s been a pretty good run. Hopefully we can keep that going," said Howard. "But it’s completely independent. It’s obviously a year later and we’ve obviously had a lot of games in between... But again, I can’t say enough about how we’re playing. I just love that my three guys are making everything in front of me. It just makes my life so much simpler.
"We’re making all the right shots at the right time and limiting our mistakes."
Stoughton now has four round-robin games remaining — two Thursday and two Friday. He will play New Brunswick’s Grattan (4-4) Thursday afternoon and then Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs (5-2) at night. Stoughton then finishes on Friday with games against N.W.T.’s Jamie Koe (3-5) and a sad-sack winless B.C. team skipped by Andrew Bilesky (0-7).
With only one of those remaining opponents boasting a winning record, it would seem Stoughton has most of his heavy lifting now behind him, with the remainder of the week now focused on playoff positioning and attempting to qualify for Saturday’s Page playoff 1 vs. 2 game.
Meanwhile, Alberta’s Kevin Martin kept his team’s slim playoff hopes alive last night with his second win in a row after a dreadful 1-4 start, an 8-3 shellacking of N.W.T.
At 3-4, Martin was asked if it’s starting to feel like his team is back on track. Martin sounded skeptical.
"I don’t know," he said. "It was a good game, we played well. But it’s like I said yesterday, we’ll come out here, win as many as we can, but obviously the four losses at the start isn’t good — and it might be too many, for that matter."
Howard, however, isn’t yet sure we’ve seen the last of Martin.
"They’re way too good a team to be playing the way they are," said Howard. "They will turn it around and they seem to be doing that already."