LONDON, Ont. — Championship on the line and a chance to draw for the win. This was Brad Gushue’s wheelhouse and he delivered again Sunday when it counted most.
With Manitoba sitting two in the 10th end, Gushue drew the four-foot ring with his final shot to win his fifth Tim Hortons Brier title in seven years.
“I trusted it. We made it. It’s awesome,” Gushue said.
Manitoba’s Matt Dunstone gave up three points in the eighth end — the first multiple-point end of the game — but responded with a deuce in the ninth.
He tapped a rock with his final shot in the 10th to put the pressure on his opponent. But just like he did in his first Brier win back in 2017 at home in St. John’s, N.L., Gushue came through.
“I thought I nailed it and the guys judged it perfectly,” he said. “You just have to trust 25 or 30 years of work that you put in.”
There were some nerves though as Gushue settled into the hack at Budweiser Gardens. He missed a draw in the sixth end and was heavy with both throws in the seventh.
“I was just trying not to overthrow it,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was dialed in 100 per cent so that made it a little bit more nervy.”
His game-winner in 2017 needed a major sweep to reach the eight-foot. This time, lead Geoff Walker and second E.J. Harnden scrubbed it over the first half of the sheet before cleaning it the rest of the way.
“I’ve had the opportunity to watch that a few times,” said Gushue vice Mark Nichols. “I never get sick of it.”
Dunstone, hands in his pockets, could only stand and watch the rock settle beside the button.
“We were down and out after the eighth end and we made him throw a tough shot to win the Brier,” he said. “It just speaks volumes about this team.”
The defending champions started the game with hammer but the Manitoba side applied early pressure. Gushue did well to blank the opener but Dunstone sat three in the second end to force a draw.
Each team forced the other over the next three ends with some strong shotmaking.
Manitoba second Colton Lott and third B.J. Neufeld each made slight mistakes in the sixth end. But a Dunstone freeze held Gushue to one as the veteran skip was heavy with his second shot.
Canada’s big end was set up after Lott flashed a rock and Neufeld rubbed a stone on a freeze attempt. Dunstone’s hit-and-roll attempt didn’t quite get to the right spot and Gushue made him pay with a hit and stick.
“It just felt like any little blink was going to lose that game,” Gushue said. “Fortunately for us we got it from them in the eighth end and we just held on. But man oh man, they played so strong.”
Dunstone reached the title game earlier in the day with a 7-5 win over Wild Card 1’s Brendan Bottcher.
Dunstone put the pressure on in the 10th end of the semifinal, drawing around two stones to sit on the side of the button. Bottcher’s draw on the other side was light, giving Manitoba a steal of two and the victory.
“We’re gritty. We’re tenacious. We’re never out of it,” Dunstone said.
Gushue earned a direct berth to the championship game with a 5-4 victory over Dunstone in the Page 1-2 game on Saturday night. The Canada skip stole a point in the 10th end.
Gushue beat Kevin Koe in last year’s final in Lethbridge, Alta.
His team will represent Canada at the April 1-9 world men’s curling championship in Ottawa.
Harnden, who won Olympic gold in 2014 with Brad Jacobs, joined the Gushue team in the off-season. Gushue won his previous Brier titles with Nichols, Walker and Brett Gallant, who now plays with Bottcher.
“I have friends who say, ‘I can’t believe you won three Briers.’ (Then it’s) four, now all of a sudden five,” Walker said. “It’s hard to believe.”
Randy Ferbey is the all-time leader with six career Brier titles (four as a skip). Gushue has won the most national crowns as a skip, moving ahead of Ferbey, Ernie Richardson, Kevin Koe and Kevin Martin.
Dunstone is the current leader in the Canadian men’s team rankings. Bottcher is just behind in second place and Gushue is third.
Gushue’s team will take home $108,000 of the $300,000 total purse. Dunstone’s side gets $60,000 and Bottcher’s side will pocket $40,000.
Announced attendance for the final was 6,562 to bring the overall total to 95,338. The venue seats 9,090 for curling.
This was the final Brier with Tim Hortons as title sponsor. The 2024 event, which does not yet have a title sponsor, will be held in Regina.
Kerri Einarson won the Canadian women’s curling championship last month in Kamloops, B.C.
Her Manitoba-based team will wear the Maple Leaf at the March 18-26 world women’s curling championship in Sandviken, Sweden.