They won’t play the final game of the 2023 Viterra Manitoba Men’s Curling Championship until Feb. 12 in Neepawa.
But there will be a tantalizing preview of what many might predict as the two combatants in that Manitoba final Sunday afternoon at Willie O’Ree Place in Fredericton, N.B., when Team Matt Dunstone and Team Reid Carruthers will go head to head to decide the men’s champion of the inaugural PointsBet Invitational.
No. 5 seed Team Carruthers, from Morris, Man., reached the final with a dramatic 5-4 win over top-seeded Team Brad Gushue (St. John’s. N.L.) in one men’s semi on Saturday, while No. 3 Team Dunstone of Winnipeg beat No. 2 Team Brendan Bottcher (Calgary) 9-5.
Yes, there are other Manitoba contenders — we see you, Team Braden Calvert — but the current form chart would favour a Dunstone-Carruthers final in February with a trip to the 2023 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by AGI, in London, Ont., on the line.
“Sure,” said a smiling Dunstone, who shot the lights out, scoring a 99 per cent game against Team Bottcher. “I mean, it’s going to be one of many, many battles and a lot of big games with those guys. We already have one this year and we happened to get the best of them in that one (a 7-5 win on Sept. 16 at the ATP Okotoks Classic in Okotoks, Alta.) so they’re going to come out hungry tomorrow. The more we get to play against each other, the better.”
Dunstone, backed up by his new lineup of vice-skip B.J. Neufeld, second Colton Lott and lead Ryan Harnden, took control early against Team Bottcher. Dunstone made a precision hit-and-roll behind cover with his final shot of the first end that forced Bottcher to draw for a single point.
Bottcher appeared to be in good shape to follow up with a stolen single in the second. Dunstone, though, made a wonderful runback to pick Bottcher’s shot rock and score three, taking a lead he would never surrender.
“To not start with hammer and get a force in the first end, that’s something we’ve been really good at this week,” said Dunstone. “The angles worked out for us in the second, and from there we controlled pretty much the entire game.”
While Dunstone, Neufeld and Harnden have plenty of major championship experience, it will be the first national-level 10-end final played by Lott since he won the 2016 Canadian Junior Men’s championship as Dunstone’s vice-skip.
“I’d say over the last 10 years I’ve been in quite a few big games,” said Harnden with a laugh, “but I think it’s important to get Colton in these big games. He hasn’t had the experience yet, so to get him in a final in a big event like this is very important early on. He handled himself well today, so we just treat (the final) as another big game.”
In the other semi, it took a sudden-death draw to the button to decide it, and it was Carruthers outdrawing his opposite number for the victory. Team Gushue trailed by one entering the 10th end and couldn’t manufacture a winning deuce with hammer; by taking one, he gave Carruthers the choice of which turn to throw in the draw-off, and Carruthers, was able to play the same shot he’d thrown with his final shot of the 10th — an inturn draw to the button. Gushue, meanwhile, was heavy on his outturn draw attempt.
“We made a lot of good shots, and it was fortunate that Reid had played that inturn draw on his last one, so we knew that path,” said Team Carruthers second Derek Samagalski. “I was pretty confident that Reid was going to hit the button and Brad had to go in a different spot, and got caught on it, a little heavy.”
The victory ended a stunning 22-game losing streak for Carruthers and Samagalski in games against Team Gushue, dating back to December 2015.
“It’s big. Really big. And I’ll just say it’s been a while since we’ve beaten Gushue, myself and Derek,” said a happy Carruthers, whose team is rounded out by vice-skip Jason Gunnlaugson and lead Connor Njegovan. “So it’s a confidence booster. This is a nice little stepping stone and it’ll bring some confidence moving forward.”
The win was worth $12,000 apiece for the semifinal victors, who will play for a winner-take-all $24,000 winner’s cheque on Sunday.
High stakes, indeed, and perhaps a little mental edge for whichever Manitoba team prevails heading into the full grind of the season. But Dunstone is quick to point out there’s plenty of hard work to be done, and Sunday won’t make or break a season.
“I think perspective is key here,” he said. “I mean, this is our second event in Year No. 1 of a four-year cycle we’re going through. The more we can put ourselves in this kind of situation, the better.”
The women’s final at 10:30 a.m. will feature No. 5 Team Jennifer Jones (Winnipeg/Altona, Man.) taking on No. 6 Team Casey Scheidegger (Lethbridge, Alta.) with Kristie Moore skipping the lineup.
The 2022 PointsBet Invitational continues Thursday with Sweep 16 men’s play at 7 p.m. (all times Atlantic)
Live scoring, standings and statistics for the 2022 PointsBet Invitational are available at curling.ca/scoreboard.
TSN and RDS2 (streamed on ESPN3 in the United States) will provide complete coverage of the 2022 PointsBet Invitational. CLICK HERE for the complete schedule.
Source: Curling Canada