Canada's Gushue dominates en route to first men's Pan Continental curling crown

CALGARY — Brad Gushue put a flourish on his team's dominant curling to become the first men's Pan Continental champion Sunday.

To inject levity in a lopsided 11-3 win over South Korea in the final, Canada's skip weaved his final stone of the eighth end under his front leg and delivered it on the outside of his knee for a trick shot.

"I've done it a lot in clinics and stuff like that and shown kids," Gushue said. "Usually I can hit the rings, but I'm a little disappointed it went through there. Epic fail."

The South Koreans, ready to concede in the eighth end, were content to peel lone rocks in the rings to accelerate the game's conclusion.

Gushue's team from St. John's, N.L., scored two points in the first end, stole one in the second, scored four in the fourth and stole another three in the fifth for a 10-1 lead.

"The ice was really good in the first four or five ends," the skip said. "We really felt like, let's be aggressive in those first five ends, see if we can get some steals, get some big ends and then just kind of hold on."

The World Curling Federation introduced the Pan Continental Curling Championship this year as a world championship qualifier for all countries outside of Europe, and to provide a regional equivalent to the 46-year-old European Curling Championship.

Gushue reached an international podium for a third time in 2022 after winning Olympic bronze in February and world championship silver in April.

"Certainly for us, we're still very proud of winning this," Gushue said. "There's lots of good teams here and we played really well. We're going to give ourselves a little pat on the back. It certainly doesn't have the same prestige as the Europeans yet, but give it time."

Teams finishing in the top five in Calgary secured 2023 world championship berths for their countries, but Canada has an automatic entry as the host country of the men's event in Ottawa.

South Korea, bronze medallist U.S., Japan and New Zealand qualified for the April competition.

Kerri Einarson, who locked in Canada's spot in the women's championship at Sandviken, Sweden in March, faced Tabitha Peterson of the United States for bronze Sunday afternoon.

Einarson lost Saturday's semifinal 6-5 to Olympic silver medallist Satsuki Fujisawa, which sent Japan to Sunday's final against South Korea's Seungyoun Ha.

New Zealand's women earned the other spot for the world championship at this event.

Gushue faced non-traditional curling opponents such as Chinese Tapei, Australia and Brazil at Calgary's WinSport Event Centre.

After a 10-8 loss to the United States to open the tournament, Gushue, vice Mark Nichols, new second E.J. Harnden and lead Geoff Walker won eight games in a row and outscored the opposition 80-24.

"The teams that we played probably weren't of the calibre that we see on the Grand Slam circuit, but I think even if we had played this way in the Grand Slams, we would have been there at the end of the week," Gushue said.

Since Harnden is new to his team this season as Brett Gallant's replacement, Gushue said the Pan Continental was a chance for his altered lineup to get international experience together.

Canada's big early leads throughout the week also opened the door for 19-year-old alternate Nathan Young to get some game reps.

"I don't get to play on that kind of ice surface that often," Young said. "To get out there and throw on that ice is really beneficial. Also, it's kind of nerve-racking when you're sitting in the hack and Team Gushue is kind of controlling your rock.

"It's good practice to kind of just focus on the shot. It was really nice of the guys to get me in as much as they did."

The next event for Gushue and company is Dec. 6-11 in Oakville, Ont., for the Grand Slam's Masters.

"Once a month for the rest of the year, that was strategic for us," Gushue said. "It is a post-Olympic year. We don't want to wear ourselves out.

"We're old, so we have to make sure we're ready in three year's time for the (Olympic) trials."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press