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Saskatchewan's McEwen, Alberta's Bottcher, Manitoba's Carruthers out front at Brier

REGINA — Saskatchewan's Mike McEwen, Alberta's Brendan Bottcher and Manitoba's Reid Carruthers emerged from the Canadian men's curling championship's opening weekend as front-runners.
Saskatchewan skip Mike McEwen delivers a rock while playing Team Alberta-Koe during the Brier, in Regina, on Sunday, March 3, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

REGINA — Saskatchewan's Mike McEwen, Alberta's Brendan Bottcher and Manitoba's Reid Carruthers emerged from the Canadian men's curling championship's opening weekend as front-runners.

Those three are 3-0 heading into Monday's action at the Montana's Brier in Regina.

Carruthers, whose team is skipped by Brad Jacobs, curled a marathon Sunday with a pair of wins that both went to an extra end.

After a stones' measurement was required to declare them a morning winner over Ontario's Scott Howard, Carruthers needed overtime again in the evening's 9-8 victory over Northern Ontario's Trevor Bonot.

"Oh, that was a wild day. Holy smokes," Carruthers said. "The measurement, it felt like that was yesterday.

"Three and oh, a few more grey hairs. Our team is confident that we can compete with anyone here in Canada, but, as you can tell, the competition is very fierce."

Bottcher's team led the field in shooting accuracy at 95 per cent, although two of his first three opponents were the lowest-seeded in their pool. 

The top-ranked men's team in Canada made quick work of Howard on Sunday evening in an 8-2 victory that lasted eight ends.

"We're working well, we're working hard. We're having a ton of fun and that's translated to some good numbers, but it's a long week," Bottcher said. 

"There's certainly going to be a lot more games that we're going to have to keep that up, but certainly trending good here out of the gate."

McEwen's 3-0 start included wins over four-time champion Kevin Koe and five-time winner Brad Gushue.

"I think it shows what we're capable of," McEwen said after Sunday's 6-5 win over Koe. 

"We can definitely hang with these teams. It's still a long week ahead of us. We saw P.E.I. take us right to a last-shot victory on Friday night, so I'm not taking anybody for granted. 

"I would have taken two and one out of this opening weekend, so three and oh even better."

Jacobs skipped Northern Ontario 11 times in his career. He won Canadian and world titles in 2013 as well as an Olympic gold medal in 2014. 

After joining Carruthers' Manitoba team for this season, Jacob and Carruthers swapped positions in December. Bonot wearing the colours Jacobs bore for years made his opponent work hard for the win.

"I've got a lot of respect for those guys," Jacobs said. "They're always tough competitors. And I told my guys 'expect a really great game here, these guys know how to curl.'"

Carruthers and Bottcher topped Pool A, while McEwen was alone atop Pool B.

The top three teams in each pool of nine at the end of pool play Thursday advance to Friday's six-team playoff, which determines Saturday's four Page playoff teams. 

Teams seeded first and second in their pools aren't eliminated if they lose their first playoff game.

Sunday's Brier winner represents Canada at the world championship March 30 to April 7 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and returns to the 2025 Brier in Kelowna, B.C., as defending champion.

The victor also gets a berth in the 2025 Olympic curling trials, pending a top-six result at the world championship.

Ontario's two-loss day dropped Howard (1-2) into a tie in Pool A with B.C.'s Caitlin Schneider, who was a 7-2 winner over Newfoundland and Labrador's Andrew Symonds (0-3).

Yukon's Thomas Scoffin downed New Brunswick's James Gratton 11-7 to get to 1-1 alongside Manitoba's Matt Dunstone. Grattan fell to 0-2.

Gushue and Jamie Koe of Northwest Territories improved to 2-1 and Alberta's Aaron Sluchinski to 2-0 with Pool B victories Sunday afternoon. Prince Edward Island's Tyler Smith (1-1) had the day off.

Kevin Koe felt the heat of a 1-2 start after the loss to Saskatchewan. He's playing a second season with third Tyler Tardi and lead Karrick Martin, and his first with second Jacques Gauthier.

"We're not where we want to be," the skip said. "We feel we should be competing here and we feel like we're a playoff team. Right now, we're not."

Gushue rebounded from a loss to McEwen with a 9-7 win over Quebec's Julien Tremblay (1-2) in the afternoon. Jamie Koe, who is Kevin's younger brother, went an extra end to beat Matthew Manuel (0-3) of Nova Scotia 8-7.

Trailing 5-1 after three ends, Sluchinski battled back to score four in the 10th end and win 12-10 over Nunavut's Shane Latimer (0-2).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2024.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press