Defending champion Gushue wins opening game at the Tim Hortons Brier

LONDON, Ont. — Defending champ Brad Gushue defeated British Columbia's Jacques Gauthier 6-5 on Friday night in the opening draw at the Canadian men's curling championship.

Gushue, from St. John's, N.L., made a draw to the button in the ninth end that led to a steal. He capped the win by holding Gauthier to a single in the 10th.

The veteran skip has won the Tim Hortons Brier on four occasions over the last six years. His Brier win last season in Lethbridge, Alta., was sandwiched by an Olympic bronze and world silver.

Gauthier, a world junior champion in 2020, provided a stiff challenge for the Newfoundland and Labrador-based side.

The 24-year-old Brier rookie showed his form in the opening end with a freeze to the button that helped generate a single. He followed with a force but was wide with a tap attempt in the third that gave Gushue a steal of two.

The teams exchanged singles through the eighth end.

It was Gushue's first competitive game in about seven weeks. His team didn't have to play provincial playdowns since it had an automatic Brier entry as defending champions.

Winnipeg resident Mike McEwen enjoyed some home team love from the Budweiser Gardens crowd in a 13-2 rout of Quebec's Felix Asselin. It was the first time McEwen has worn Ontario colours at the Brier.

"It feels strangely weird wearing the black and red," McEwen said. "It's exciting to have the crowd get behind us. I think the more games we can win will encourage that."

In other games, the Wild Card 1 team skipped by Brendan Bottcher dumped Prince Edward Island's Tyler Smith 8-2. Karsten Sturmay's Wild Card 3 rink topped New Brunswick's Scott Jones 7-3.

"We've been looking forward to the Brier all year, especially the last couple weeks leading up here," Bottcher said. "It's nice to come out and get a win, but more importantly play well."

Two draws are scheduled for Saturday before the competition shifts to three-draw days through Thursday. The playoffs begin March 10 and the final is scheduled for March 12.

Alberta's Kevin Koe, Manitoba's Matt Dunstone and Wild Card 2's Reid Carruthers are some of the other event headliners.

The Brier winner will represent Canada at the April 1-9 world men's curling championship in Ottawa.

London last hosted the Brier in 2011 when Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton beat Ontario's Glenn Howard in the final. The southwest Ontario city, located about 200 kilometres west of Toronto, also served as host of the 1974 playdowns.

Kerri Einarson won the Canadian women's championship last week in Kamloops, B.C. Her Manitoba-based team will wear the Maple Leaf at the March 18-26 world women's playdowns in Sandviken, Sweden.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2023.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press