ST. JOHN’S, N.L. â€” From playing in national finals to winning Olympic gold, St. John’s skip Brad Gushue has certainly played in some big games over his long career.
Playing a Brier in his hometown was an experience all its own.
Gushue and his Newfoundland and Labrador teammates battled some early jitters Saturday before settling in for an 8-6 victory over Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher in front of an adoring crowd at Mile One Centre.
“The adrenalin was pumping, there was some emotion there,” Gushue said. “The legs were shaking, the hand was shaking. I’ve thrown enough that I just had to trust it. It turned out OK.”
The veteran skip was more than just OK. He was perfect on the afternoon.
Gushue was the lone curler in the four-game opening draw to throw 100 per cent. He broke a 5-5 tie in the eighth with a nice double-raise and followed with a draw to score three.
“That was a huge shot, it really was,” Gushue said of his first throw in the end. “Probably a game-winner to be honest.”
It’s the first time St. John’s has hosted the Brier since 1972. Gushue, who’s making his 14th appearance at this event, is trying to become the first Newfoundlander to hoist the Tankard since Jack MacDuff in 1976.
In other early games, Manitoba’s Mike McEwen topped Saskatchewan’s Adam Casey 6-5 and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs outscored British Columbia’s John Morris 9-7.
Nova Scotia’s Jamie Murphy earned the last spot in the 12-team main draw with a 9-6 victory over Yukon’s Craig Kochan in the qualification final.
Bottcher, the 2012 world junior champ, was making his Brier debut. He hushed the packed house with a single but Gushue generated a big roar with a deuce in the second and added two more points in the fourth.
Gushue nearly broke the game open in the fifth, but Bottcher coolly drew to the pin against three to cut the deficit to one.
The 25-year-old native of Sherwood Park, Alta., did well in a challenging environment.
“It’s a little weird hearing crickets when you make shots and then the building just going nuts when they make shots,” Bottcher said. “That’s just part of it. So I think now we know what to expect and in some ways it’s good we got that first game out of the way.”
Team Canada’s Kevin Koe, who beat Gushue in last year’s Brier final in Ottawa, defeated Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard 7-5 in the evening.
“We’ve put in some hard work and we’re throwing it (well),” Koe said. “If we can just get off to a good start and find a way to be in the playoffs come the end, I like our chances no matter what position we end up in.”
In other late games, Murphy needed an extra end to get by Ontario’s Glenn Howard 6-5 and New Brunswick’s Mike Kennedy posted a 6-5 win over Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories.
Murphy hit the button with his final shot for the victory.
“It was a good day,” he said. “That was a fun way to finish.”
Round-robin play continues through Friday morning.
The top four teams will advance to the Page playoffs. The medal games are scheduled for March 12.
The Brier winner will represent Canada at the April 1-9 world men’s curling championship in Edmonton.
Notes: This is the final year a qualification round will be used at the Brier. All provinces and territories will be included in the main draw next year. A 16-team field will be split into two pools of eight. … Jacobs defeated Quebec’s Martin Crete to win the Hot Shots competition earlier in the day. … MacDuff and his teammates were honoured before the opening draw along with Gushue’s gold-medal winning team from the 2006 Turin Games.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press