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This article was published 23/11/2021 (184 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SASKATOON — Whenever Brad and Mark and their sturdy sweepers collide with Brad and Marc and their bulky brushers, the force of the impact is pulverizing.
Yet, there are moments of intricacy and finesse as well.
A Tuesday afternoon match between Brad Gushue and Brad Jacobs — ranked first and second, respectively, in Canadian men's curling — featured just about everything and had the look and feel of a Sunday night finale.
A harbinger of things to come, perhaps, at the Canadian Olympic Trials? It was downright entertaining stuff for about 7,500 fans at SaskTel Centre and a big TV audience.
Gushue and his St. John's, N.L., squad, with third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker, slipped past the Jacobs quartet, with Marc Kennedy at third and front-end brothers E.J. and Ryan Harnden, in a meeting of the bonspiel's unbeaten frontrunners.
Predictably, it wasn't settled until Gushue's final toss with hammer in the extra end. The 2006 Olympic champion calmly delivered a draw to nibble a piece of the button and secure a 7-6 triumph over the 2014 Winter Games gold medallist.
"It's tiring," admitted Gushue, 41. "You can't expect anything different playing those guys… you just want to have control of the hammer in the last end or the extra end, and, fortunately, we did. Pretty happy with how we performed, probably our best game of the week."
Gushue gained sole possession of first place at 4-0 while Jacobs dropped to 3-1 in round-robin play.
In stark contrast, the feature game of the evening, a showdown between Manitoba women's teams, became a contest to see which of either Jennifer Jones or Kerri Einarson would miss the least.
Jones nearly pulled off an unthinkable comeback, rallying from 6-0 down after three ends to lead 9-8 going to the 10th. But the two-time reigning Scotties champions from Gimli orchestrated a deuce in the 10th — solidified with the skip's takeout toss that required a flurry of sweeping the whole way down Sheet C — to win a wild one 10-9.
The 2014 Olympic champion's unblemished record took a hit (4-1), while Einarson (3-2) remains very much in the playoff picture.
Standings leader, East St. Paul's Tracy Fleury (4-0), is showing no sign of stumbling at her first Trials. The No.1-ranked squad in the world blasted struggling Rachel Homan 8-3 to knock the Ottawa team to 1-3.
Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay (2-3) posted a 6-4 win over Jacqueline Harrison of Dundas, Ont. (2-2), while Kelsey Rocque (3-2) edged fellow Albertan Casey Scheidegger 6-5.
Of the nine teams in the field, only three qualify for the weekend playoffs. Four years ago in Ottawa, no team with more than three defeats advanced.
Gushue squeezed out of a monster jam in the 10th end but managed to hold Jacobs to a game-tying deuce instead of surrendering more. In the extra, Jacobs made a hit and roll with his last rock to sit a pair in the eight-foot circle, however, Gushue was money with his final stone.
"Really good," Gushue answered, regarding the odds the two heavyweights will rumble again this week. "The way those guys have been playing this year and this week, they're gonna be around at the end of the week. I'm confident we will be as well. There's still a lot of work to do…"
Trailing 3-1, 5-3 and 6-4 at various stages, Jacobs refused to go quietly.
"Was that just Round 1 (between the teams)? I hope so, you never know. It's a long week. I'm really just proud of my guys and the way we were able to hang in there and stick with it," Jacobs said. "You gotta expect to lose a game or two or maybe more in a field like this, so chins up and look forward to (Wednesday)."
Firing 94 per cent as a team (four points better than Gushue's crew) still wasn't enough to ensure a victory for Jacobs, who noted the head-to-head battles are rarely less than epic.
"We've been butting heads with Gushue's team for many years. Both teams take that game very seriously, both want to win very badly," said Jacobs. "And you know what? You go back and look at the records, who knows, it's probably close to 50-50. It's really anyone's game."
The numbers guy with World Financial Group has a superb memory. Since November 2008, the sides have met 56 times. Gushue has a slight 29-27 edge, including four of the last five since March 2020.
Meanwhile, Jason Gunnlaugson's Morris team scored four in the fifth end and three more in the seventh en route to an 11-6 triumph over Tanner Horgan of Kingston, Ont. Gunnlaugson, shut out in seven games as a skip at the 2009 Trials in Edmonton, was asked to describe the satisfaction of a milestone victory.
The 37-year-old skip raised his arms to the sky in jubilation. "Two O-fors would have sucked," said Gunnlaugson, grinning widely. "Winning is so much better than losing. The guys played great in front of me and really gave me a lot of makable shots, and I was able to finish a few ends."
Gunnlaugson appeared uptight in lopsided defeats to Toronto's John Epping (2-2) and Mike McEwen of West St. Paul (2-1) but was clearly more relaxed against the Horgan crew (1-3).
"This win means a lot, I know for me personally and for the whole team. I think we were a little bit looser. It's a tough field and any time you get a win, it's great. We'll try and stack up as many as we possibly can."
Brendan Bottcher (1-3) was bound to win here some time and the 2021 Brier champion finally delivered, victimizing McEwen with a 10-2 drubbing. Toronto's John Epping (2-2) downed Regina's Matt Dunstone 9-7. The former Winnipegger has yet to win in four tries.
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