Gushue piles on pressure as Gunnlaugson sweats challenging Brier opener
Ontario's Epping steals win over defending champ Koe
Manitoba's Jason Gunnlaugson admitted he was "a little bit amped up" for his main draw debut at the Tim Hortons Brier.
It made for a challenging opening game Saturday afternoon at the Leon's Centre.
Gunnlaugson didn't get on the scoreboard until past the midway point of an 8-4 loss to Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador. Gushue led 5-0 after four ends and put the game away with three points in the seventh.
"I threw a bad slide in three that really cost us but after that, I felt really good," Gunnlaugson said. "That's the good part of it is when you get down four, it just kind of all melts off and then you play some curling."
The 35-year-old Winnipeg skip lost the play-in game at the Brier in 2018 to Mike McEwen, who became the first Team Wild Card in event history.
Third Alex Forrest and lead Connor Njegovan were also on Gunnlaugson's team that year and Adam Casey is now on board at second.
Casey, who has Brier experience with three other provinces over his career, had the worst shooting percentage of all players at 64 per cent.
"I struggled a bit and any time your second is not playing top end — you've just got to make your runbacks at this level," Casey said. "Brad's team was doing a really good job just like they always do. Their weight control was good and they put the rocks in good places.
"We just got caught behind the eight ball and they capitalized."
Newfoundland and Labrador second Brett Gallant threw a perfect 100 per cent and his team finished at 91 per cent overall.
"We put a lot of pressure on their team," Gushue said. "We got a couple misses and kind of got the score a little lopsided."
Koe drops opener to Epping
Canada's Kevin Koe dropped a 5-3 decision to John Epping of Ontario in the showcase opener. Koe tried a takeout with his final throw in the 10th end but left a stone by the button for a steal.
"Obviously a great start and it feels great," said Epping, who got a boost from the standing-room crowd of 4,966.
WATCH | Ontario's Epping steals his way to victory:
Koe, who threw just 70 per cent, is looking to become the first skip to win the Brier on five occasions.
In other early games, British Columbia's Steve Laycock topped Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories 6-4 and Nova Scotia's Jamie Murphy dumped Quebec's Alek Bedard 10-3.
In Draw 2 of round-robin play, Alberta's Brendan Bottcher defeated top-ranked Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario 7-2 and McEwen's wild-card team beat Saskatchewan's Matt Dunstone 5-3.
WATCH | Alberta's Brendan Bottcher beats Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs:
New Brunswick's James Grattan came back for a 9-8 win over Yukon's Thomas Scoffin and Bryan Cochrane of Prince Edward Island topped Nunavut's Jake Higgs 9-4.
Three draws were on tap Sunday. The preliminary round continues through Wednesday night.
The top four teams in each eight-team pool will advance to the championship round. The four-team Page Playoffs begin March 7 and the final is set for March 8.
The Brier champion will represent Canada at the March 28-April 5 men's world curling championship in Glasgow, Scotland.