Who knows what the final score will be tomorrow in the Brier championship (TSN, 5:30 p.m.). But we do know now who the finalists will be.
Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton (pictured), who finished second in the round-robin with a 9-2 record, secured a bye into the final when he beat Brad Gushue’s Newfoundland & Labrador rink 7-6 in an extra end in the 1-2 Page Playoff Game Friday night. Then in tonight’s semi-final, Gushue fell to Russ Howard’s Ontario rink 7-6. Earlier Saturday, Howard had defeated his nemesis Kevin Martin from Alberta 5-4 in the 3-4 Page Playoff Game.
Howard finished fourth in the standings after the round robin, so Ontario making it to the final could be considered a bit of a surprise. But realistically, there was little to choose between the top four teams. Gushue, Stoughton and Martin all finished 9-2, and Howard was right behind at 8-3.
I saw the Manitoba vs. Saskatchewan game at my dad’s on Wednesday afternoon. I got there just at the fifth end break. Saskatchewan was up 5-2, and seemed to be in control of the game. Then Manitoba took over. Saskatchewan wasn’t shooting badly. There were few missed or even half shots. But if it wasn’t absolutely perfect — a couple of feet too deep, or six inches off line — Manitoba inevitably made the Steve Laycock rink pay. And Saskatchewan ended up losing in an extra end. This year, the Brier was definitely a four-horse race, with a clear separation between the front-runners and the rest of the pack.
The Brier’s in London, so Howard will have a big crowd behind him tomorrow. Stoughton, meanwhile, will be looking to end an uncharacteristic drought for Manitoba at the Brier. The province’s last championship was in 1999.
Should be a good one.