Manitoba's Gunnlaugson and Koe's Wild Card Two only unbeaten teams left at Brier
Team Manitoba skip Jason Gunnlaugson, centre, makes a shot as lead Connor Njegovan, right, and second Matt Wozniak look on as they play Team Wild Card One at the Brier in Calgary, Alta., Monday, March 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CALGARY -- Only two unbeaten teams remain in the 18-team field at the Canadian men's curling championship.
Pool leaders Kevin Koe of Wild Card Two and Jason Gunnlaugson of Manitoba remained perfect on Monday. But there were some unexpected team placements below them in the standings as the preliminary round reached the midway point.
New Brunswick's James Grattan, Wild Card Three's Wayne Middaugh and Nova Scotia's Scott McDonald have all enjoyed solid starts while Canada's Brad Gushue, Wild Card One's Mike McEwen and Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs have work to do to make the cut.
It's shaping up to be a rather interesting midweek stretch at the WinSport Arena.
Gunnlaugson moved into sole possession of first place in Pool A after an 8-5 victory over McEwen to improve to 3-0.
"It's a good start but it's a long, long week," Gunnlaugson said.
Alberta's Brendan Bottcher defeated Middaugh 5-3 and Grattan edged Jacobs 7-6 in an extra end. That left Alberta and New Brunswick even at 3-1 while Middaugh fell into fourth place at 2-1.
Bottcher, who has reached the Tim Hortons Brier final in each of the last three years, earned a critical steal in the eighth end when Middaugh was light on his draw.
"It's early in the week but these wins count as much as the ones on Thursday, Friday and Saturday," Bottcher said. "You need to win them while you can.
"We played a really good game there and it was nice to cap it off and pull out the W."
In the other afternoon game, British Columbia's Steve Laycock dumped Yukon's Dustin Mikkelsen 9-2.
Gunnlaugson, who was 5-6 in his Brier main draw debut last year, has already knocked off two expected contenders in McEwen and Bottcher.
"It's hard to put into words how valuable it is to have a guy like Jay on your team," said Manitoba lead Connor Njegovan. "Everything is so planned out and when he's hitting well, it's very hard to stop us."
Wild Card One and Northern Ontario were tied in fifth place at 2-2 while B.C. improved to 1-2. The Northwest Territories (0-3) and Yukon (0-4) remained winless.
In Pool B, Koe dumped Nunavut's Peter Mackey 11-3 and Saskatchewan's Matt Dunstone made a draw for a piece of the button in a 6-5 win over Gushue.
"A great team shot," Dunstone said. "To do it at the Brier against Team Canada is a great moment for us. Hopefully we carry this momentum moving forward."
Koe was 5-0 while Dunstone moved into a second-place tie at 3-1 with idle Ontario skip John Epping.
Nova Scotia's Scott McDonald made a brilliant triple takeout in the 10th end of a 9-6 win over Quebec's Michael Fournier that left both teams at 3-2.
"You live to make big shots to win games," McDonald said. "We made a couple big ones today and we're really happy to pull out the victory."
Gushue, who has won the Brier in three of the last four years, was alone in sixth place at 2-2.
Greg Smith of Newfoundland and Labrador (1-4) earned his first victory with an 11-7 win over P.E.I.'s Eddie MacKenzie, who remained in last place with Nunavut at 0-4.
The preliminary round continues through Thursday night at the Markin MacPhail Centre on the grounds of Canada Olympic Park. The top four teams in each pool will advance to the two-day championship round.
The final is set for Sunday night. The winner will represent Canada at the world men's curling championship next month at the same venue.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021.