Host Saskatchewan first into the playoffs at Canadian men’s curling championship

Saskatchewan’s Mike McEwen was a playoff early bird at the Canadian men’s curling championship on Wednesday.

Not only did the host province grab the first of six playoff berths with a day of pool play remaining, McEwen (6-1) secured the top seed in Pool B with a 9-3 win over Nunavut’s Shane Latimer on Wednesday evening.

The top three teams in each pool of nine advance to Friday’s round of six, from which Saturday’s four Page playoff teams emerge.

The top two seeds in each pool have the advantage of a second chance if they drop their first playoff game. McEwen will have choice of stones and last-rock advantage in the first end when Saskatchewan crosses over to meet the No. 2 seed in Pool A.

Saskatchewan caps its preliminary round Thursday against Quebec’s Julien Tremblay (2-5).

“We want to finish 7-1,” McEwen said. “I want to enter Friday playing really well.”

The last Saskatchewan team to win the Brier was Rick Folk’s in 1980. McEwen has skipped a Manitoba team seven times and Ontario once, and has yet to win it. 

“Realistically chasing after this for probably 15 years with the mindset I was capable,” the skip said. “So just really grateful that even after all that time, I still feel I’m good enough. My team’s good enough.”

The 43-year-old from Winnipeg was recruited last year by current teammates Colton Flasch and brothers Kevin and Daniel March to join the Nutana Curling Club team from Saskatoon.

Defending champion Brad Gushue and Prince Edward Island’s Tyler Smith were both 5-2 behind McEwen. 

Northwest Territories’ Jamie Koe dropped into a 4-3 tie with Aaron Sluchinski after the Alberta team downed Koe 10-4.

Smith fell 11-3 to Gushue in the morning, but recovered to with a 9-3 win over Kevin Koe at night. P.E.I. can secure the third playoff berth in the pool with a win over Jamie Koe.

“Knowing that we’re five and two going into the last day and control our own destiny is huge,” Smith said. ” If you would have gave us that at the start of the week, we would have took it and run with it by far.”

Gushue finishes against Sluchinski (4-3).

Northern Ontario’s Trevor Bonot, Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher and Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers (5-1) shared top spot in Pool A, with Manitoba’s Matt Dunstone (4-2) and B.C.’s Catlin Schneider (4-3) chasing the leaders.

Dunstone will face a rested Bonot, who had the day off, on Thursday morning.

“They’re playing great. I mean, the story of the Brier so far,” Dunstone. “When this team’s firing, when this team is going, we’re as hard to beat as anybody on the planet.”

Sunday’s winner will represent Canada at the world championship March 30 to April 7 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and return to the 2025 Montana’s Brier in Kelowna, B.C., as defending champion.

The victor also gains an Olympic trials berth in 2025 pending a top-six result at the world championship. 

The elimination of tiebreaker games from the national men’s and women’s curling championships this year gave prominence to other tiebreaking methods.

A five-way tie for the final playoff berth at the recent Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary was solved by each team’s cumulative score in the two draws to the button that precede each game to decide which team gets hammer in the first end.

So while a head-to-head result is the first tiebreaker, the second is button-draw scores. Each member of a team has to throw a minimum of three over the course of eight pool games.

Curling Canada adopted the formula this year to mirror the format of the world championships and Olympic Games. 

Canada’s Jennifer Jones was eliminated from Olympic playoff contention in Beijing in 2022 because of her worst button-draw score in a three-way tie.

Edmonton’s Bottcher, Mark Kennedy, E.J. Harnden and Ben Hebert comfortably led their pool in that department, which might be handy Thursday. They prepared for it.

“The last five weeks, we started almost every practice with a full pre-game, two draws opposite sides just trying to replicate it, because it certainly is important,” Bottcher said.

“The only time we do this is at the Brier and the team that wins gets to do it at the worlds too, but compared to all the other events we play through the course of a season, this is different.”

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