Canada’s Gushue secures men’s world curling championship playoff berth
LAS VEGAS — A high playoff seed at the men’s world curling championship could ease the grind for Brad Gushue’s Canadian team.
After securing a playoff berth, that asset was on the table for Gushue on Friday.
A 10-2 win over South Korea on Thursday evening ensured Canada (8-2) will be among the six playoff teams in Las Vegas.
The Canadians rebounded from an earlier 10-6 loss to the United States to make quick work of Soo-Hyuk Kim, who conceded after six ends.
“I would have loved to have a couple more of these throughout the week,” Gushue said. “It’s been kind of a grinding sort of week.”
Wins over Scotland (6-4) and Denmark (2-8) on Friday would give Gushue first in the standings and the upper hand heading into the playoffs.
The top two seeds get byes to Saturday’s semifinals with third through sixth playing off earlier that day to join them. The medal games are Sunday at the Orleans Arena.
“Building some momentum and a comfort level out here,” Gushue said. “The ice has been different. Fingers crossed it stays the way it was tonight. That was probably the best for us.
“Hopefully, it’s somewhere in that ballpark tomorrow and you can build more confidence.”
Reigning Olympic champion Niklas Edin of Sweden (8-3) also locked down a playoff spot Thursday. The U.S., Scotland, Switzerland and Italy were all 6-4.
Germany, Norway and South Korea were tied at 5-5 ahead of the Czech Republic (4-7), Finland (3-7), the Netherlands and Denmark (2-8).
Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker out of St. John’s, N.L., could use all the advantages a top seed and a semifinal bye afford.
Six wins in a row out of the gate in Las Vegas made Gushue a frontrunner, but the tournament has felt like an uphill battle for a team playing for a third major title in as many months and different countries.
Mere days after earning Olympic bronze in Beijing in February, they headed to Lethbridge, Alta., for the Canadian men’s championship.
They claimed their fourth Brier playing as a three-man team on the final playoff weekend when Nichols isolated with COVID-19.
In addition to the breather that comes with a semifinal bye, higher seeds are rewarded with last-rock advantage to start each playoff game.
In the round robin, the combined measurement of two pre-game button draws determines which country gets hammer in the first end. Gushue has earned hammer in the first end just twice in 10 games.
“First and foremost is getting that hammer. We haven’t been very good at that this week,” Gushue said. “That would certainly be a bonus, but just as big as that is getting a bit of rest. Any chance we can get to get some rest is going to benefit our team.”
Canada scored three with hammer against the South Koreans in the opening end and stole another three in the second end.
“It was more important for us to win the draw-the-button. We were one and eight coming into this game,” Gushue said. “We had a really bad run at the Olympics as well and at the Brier we were dominant with it.”
“We came out tonight, put two on the pin, got the hammer and got the three.”
Down nine points after five ends and playing out the string in the sixth, South Korean second Se Hyeon Seong’s shoot-the-duck delivery with his leg extended out front provided entertainment.
Alternate E.J. Harnden drew into the lineup twice Thursday. He subbed in for Gallant in the seventh end of the first game when Canada trailed by five points and for Walker in the sixth end when Canada was up on Kim by nine.
Higher seeds also get first choice of stones in playoff games. Teams scout stones’ movements and compile reports on them in order to match consistent stones together.
The World Curling Federation’s granite — formerly used in World Curling Tour Grand Slams — is a Gushue beef in Vegas.
Gallant and Walker switched stones early in the loss to the U.S. because of a lack of curl.
“Even when it came time for Mark’s shots, it was hard to know where to put the broom because his rocks were different than what Geoff’s and Brett’s were,” Gushue explained after the loss.
“They’re not a good set of stones. That’s why the Grand Slams stopped using them. Just shocked they’re being used at a world championships. They were heavily mismatched when we played with them at the Slams.
“We had a great book (on them), but then they changed all the handles on them, so we couldn’t use it. So, just a cluster expletive.”