April 16th, 2024

Prince Edward Island’s Tyler Smith in the playoff hunt at the Brier

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press on March 5, 2024.

Northern Ontario skip Trevor Bonot smiles after defeating Ontario during the Brier, in Regina, on Tuesday, March 5, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

REGINA – Tyler Smith was not yet born when a Prince Edward Island team last reached the playoffs at the Canadian men’s curling championship.

Peter MacDonald’s Summerside foursome reached the Brier’s final four in 1996 via a tiebreaker victory before falling to Quebec’s Don Westphal in the Page playoff between the third and fourth seeds.

Smith, born in 1998, has led P.E.I. to a 4-1 start at the 2024 Montana’s Brier in Regina.

While there are still tough opponents ahead, including Wednesday’s clash with defending champion Brad Gushue, Smith’s Crapaud Curling Club foursome has turned heads in Regina.

“To put P.E.I. colours on your back and go out and perform the way we have so far really means a lot,” the 25-year-old skip said after a 10-5 doubling of Quebec’s Julien Smith on Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re getting a lot of support from back home. People are becoming very, very interested because it’s been awhile since P.E.I.’s been four and one at the Brier.”

Smith and Saskatchewan’s Mike McEwen joined Northwest Territories’ Jamie Koe, who had the day off, at 4-1 atop Pool B.

Gushue was 4-2 after an 8-3 win over Nunavut. McEwen was an 11-6 winner over Alberta’s Aaron Sluchinski, who dropped to 2-3 alongside Quebec.

Northern Ontario’s Trevor Bonot (4-1) controlled Pool A heading into an evening clash with B.C.’s Catlin Schneider (3-2).

Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher and Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers and Matt Dunstone were in a three-way tie at 3-1 with Bottcher facing Dunstone at night.

The top three teams in each pool of nine Thursday advance to Friday’s six-team playoff round, from which Saturday’s four Page playoff teams emerge.

Tiebreaker games have been eliminated from the format. Head-to-head results followed by cumulative scores in the draw-the-button that precede each game is the tiebreaking formula.

Three losses are considered the playoff danger zone, although a team reached the women’s championship playoffs with four losses.

Wednesday morning’s clash between Smith and Gushue is playoff pivotal for both teams.

“I’ve seen Tyler play. He’s a great player and he’s playing really well this week, so I’m not super shocked,” Gushue said. “I know, we’re going to have a challenging game against them.

“It’s big for us now because they’re ahead of us in the standings, so if we can pull them back even with us, and we’d have that advantage by beating them, that would be a great position for us.”

Smith, third Adam Cocks and lead Ed White are teammates a third straight Brier. They went 1-7 in Lethbridge, Alta., and 2-6 last year in London, Ont.

Second Chris Gallant was their alternate in Lethbridge. He’s the brother of Brett, who won four national titles and a world championship playing second for Gushue before joining Bottcher two years ago.

Smith shot 96 per cent in Monday’s win over Alberta’s Sluchinski.

“Some people might have lost some money on that game,” Chris Gallant said. “Tyler’s been making a ton of shots for us. Carrying us a little bit on occasion.

“He’s so confident with the draw weight and big-weight ability.”

P.E.I. opened with a narrow 7-6 loss to McEwen before a run of four straight wins.

“We actually felt super comfortable out there right away,” said Smith, who owns and operates an excavating company. “The first game the last couple of years, it’s kind of been like, ‘oh my God, it’s your first game at the Brier, there’s 5,000 people.’ You can’t replace experience. It matters a lot.”

In other afternoon Pool B games, Nova Scotia’s Matthew Manuel won a third straight to get to 3-3. Manuel downed Alberta’s Kevin Koe 11-5 to drop the four-time Brier champion to 1-5.

“This is about rock bottom,” Kevin Koe said. “I’m not going to lie. I’ve been to a lot of Briers. This is a new feeling. It sucks.

“Hopefully, we can win our last couple of games and take some positives out of it.”

Sunday’s winner will represent Canada at the world championship March 30 to April 7 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and return to the 2025 Montana’s Brier in Kelowna, B.C., as defending champion.

The victor also gains an Olympic trials berth in 2025 pending a top-six result at the world championship.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2024.

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