BRANDON, Man. — While the leader is away the soldiers will play. And they’ve certainly played well.
The Brad Gushue team from St. John’s is tied atop the men’s standings with Saskatoon’s Steve Laycock at 2-0 after the opening day of play at the 2016 Home Hardware Canada Cup, presented by Meridian Manufacturing, at Westman Communications Group Place at the Keystone Centre in Brandon.
The Gushue team with Mark Nichols skipping, spare Charley Thomas from Calgary playing third, Brett Gallant at second, Geoff Walker at lead and coach Jules Owchar downed 2014 Olympic gold medallist Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., 8-3 in the afternoon. They followed that with a tense 7-6 win over Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers, who fell to 1-1 with the loss.
“It’s a good start,” said Nichols. “We played really well the first five ends. Any time you go 2-0 to start an event you feel good.”
Gushue’s team and Carruthers exchanged deuces in the first five ends with Nichols making an open draw to the four-foot in the fifth for a 4-2 lead. Carruthers went for a triple takeout for two but left one behind for a steal to trail 5-2. He got two in the seventh to narrow the gap and Nichols took one in the eighth. It got tight though when Carruthers got another two in nine. Nichols made a testy soft hit-and-stick to secure the winning point in the tenth.
“You’re going to see (tight games) across every sheet. When you see a blowout you’re surprised,” Nichols said.
Gushue, the 2006 Olympic champion, is back home in the final stages of rehabbing a hip/groin injury and expects to rejoin the team next week.
With Nichols filling in as the boss the team has been the most consistent curling squad on the circuit this season, leading the Canadian Team Ranking System.
“I wouldn’t call myself the boss, but it’s different for sure. But I think everyone is playing a role. That’s the biggest thing about this team, everyone is doing their job and it’s making my job of throwing the last two rocks really easy,” said Nichols.
Nichols said the team without Gushue has exceeded its own expectations.
“I knew we could compete week in and week out. Now to be ranked No. 1 without arguably the best player in the world on the sidelines, I don’t know if we thought we could do that,” said Nichols.
Laycock went to 2-0 by upsetting Home Hardware Canada Cup defending champion and reigning Tim Hortons Brier and men’s world champion Kevin Koe of Calgary 9-5 Wednesday evening.
But despite the victories Laycock remains realistic about the work ahead of him and his team of third Kirk Muyres, second Colton Flasch, lead Dallan Muyres and coach Lyle Muyres.
“Two wins, I have never seen make playoffs in the Canada Cup in a seven-team field, so we definitely need some more. So it’s great to have a good start,” said Laycock.
The losses left Koe, Carruthers and Jacobs tied at 1-1 while Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen and John Epping of Toronto are 0-2
Two Winnipeg teams sit atop the women’s standings at 2-0. For one of them being there was expected. That would be five-time Scotties Tournament of Hearts champion and 2014 Olympic gold medallist Jennifer Jones. The other – Home Hardware Canada Cup rookie Kerri Einarsson – was not so expected.
Einarson pulled off the upset of the competition so far by downing Ottawa’s Rachel Homan 8-5 in Draw 3 Wednesday.
“We just came out strong. We had a few hiccups along our way but we bounced back from them,” said Einarson. “We controlled the game and we capitalized whenever the opposition missed.”
In the second end, Einarson forced Homan to attempt a long raise just to get a single point but it went off course and Einarson collected a steal of two. She kept the pressure on high and got another steal in the third. But she gave all three back when her last rock soft takeout crashed at the front of the house.
“I still thought we had control of it so I wasn’t worried. I know we were still making shots and outplaying our opposition,” said Einarson, who is backed by third Selena Kaatz, second Liz Frye, lead Kristin MacCuish and coach Patti Wuthrich. “We just kept our composure and said, ‘OK guys let’s get it together and let’s have a good first half.’ ”
Einarson took a 6-3 lead with another two in the seventh end before Homan replied with two in the ninth. Einarson negotiated a port to take out Homan’s counter to score two in the tenth for the victory.
In other play, 2016 Scotties Tournament of Hearts winner Chelsea Carey of Calgary dismantled Edmonton’s Kelsey Rocque 11-5 in eight ends by jumping out to a 7-1 lead after just three ends and 10-2 after five.
Tracy Fleury of Sudbury, Ont., edged Val Sweeting of Edmonton 7-6 in the event’s first extra-end game. Fleury, Carey and Homan are 1-1 while Rocque and Sweeting are 0-2.
The 2016 Home Hardware Canada Cup continues with draws Thursday at 8:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (all times CST).