EDMONTON — Sharp rocks, challenging ice, and the steady buildup of frost made for a guessing game in Canada's opener at the Ford world men's curling championship on Saturday.
Fortunately for Brad Gushue, his St. John's-based team made fewer mistakes in a 7-5 win over Switzerland's Peter de Cruz at the Northlands Coliseum.
Swiss fourth Benoit Schwarz made several mistakes in the afternoon matchup and it proved costly. He blew a chance to take a big lead in the first end and missed a throw in the seventh to set Canada up to score three and take control.
"I don't care if we get 12 sloppy wins, I'll take them all," Gushue said. "But I'd certainly like to see the ice conditions be a little bit more consistent because I think that's where our team is going to excel."
The game was in stark contrast to the consistent sharpshooting on display in Gushue's win over Kevin Koe in the Tim Hortons Brier final last month.
Schwarz threw at a clip of 74 per cent while Gushue was at 82 per cent.
"I think I had three flashes which is obviously a killer against this kind of team," Schwarz said.
There were positives for the Canadian team of Gushue, vice-skip Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker.
They were steady when they needed to be and didn't show any jitters in their debut performance at this event. In addition, Walker did not appear bothered by the shoulder woes that plagued him at the Brier and Gushue's lingering hip/groin injury was not a factor.
"I don't think we necessarily outplayed them," Gushue said. "It's just those misses cost them a few points and that was the difference in the game."
The Swiss team was aggressive at the start and it nearly paid off. Schwarz had an opportunity to score three — with an outside chance at five points — but he rubbed a guard and settled for a deuce.
Schwarz was thin on a takeout attempt in the second end and left a Canada stone on the 12-foot ring. A Gushue draw gave Canada a pair to pull even.
After a blank, Gushue buried two stones and forced Schwarz to draw the four-foot for a single. With a load of rocks in play in the fifth, a Gushue in-off gave him one point to tie the game at three.
Switzerland moved ahead in the sixth end with a single before the Canada three-spot in the seventh. Schwarz had a chance to pull even in the ninth but he jammed and settled for a single.
"We had some opportunities and obviously we had a couple of big misses," Schwarz said.
Canada shot 86 per cent overall to 79 per cent for the Swiss. De Cruz, who throws second stones, shot a game-low 71 per cent.
"If you played down a spot where there were no rocks, it was literally a guess," Gushue said. "That's why you'd see some open misses. It was a really, really challenging sheet of ice."
In other early games, Japan's Yusuke Morozumi defeated Italy's Joel Retornaz 9-5 and Germany's Alexander Baumann edged Jaap van Dorp of the Netherlands 6-5 in an extra end. American John Shuster needed only six ends to complete a 9-2 rout of Russia's Alexey Stukalskiy.
In evening play, Norway's Steffen Walstad beat Scotland's David Murdoch 9-6, Italy downed Germany 7-5, Sweden's Niklas Edin held on to beat China's Rui Liu 10-7 and Switzerland bounced back to beat the U.S. 7-4. Gushue was scheduled to return to action Sunday morning against Russia.
Announced attendance was 5,754 for the opening draw. The venue holds 13,286 for curling.
Attendance records were set in this arena for the men's world championship (184,970 in 2007), the Brier (281,985 in 2005) and the Olympic Trials (175,952 in 2009).
Round-robin play continues through Thursday night. The Page playoffs begin Friday and the medal games are set for April 9.
Koe won the world championship last year in Basel, Switzerland. Canada has won gold 35 times in the 58-year history of this event.
Gushue has a chance to become the first skip to win gold at the world junior championship (2001), Olympic Games (2006) and world men's championship.
A podium appearance here would also give his team a berth in the Olympic Trials in December in Ottawa.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press