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Reigning world champions Gushue and Homan win early games at Olympic Trials

OTTAWA — A team meeting in the middle of the Tim Hortons Brier kickstarted Brad Gushue's run to national and world titles earlier this year. Another sitdown session was needed after an early loss at the Olympic Trials.

OTTAWA — A team meeting in the middle of the Tim Hortons Brier kickstarted Brad Gushue's run to national and world titles earlier this year. 

Another sitdown session was needed after an early loss at the Olympic Trials. It appears to be paying some dividends.

Gushue picked up his second straight win Monday morning with an 8-6 victory over John Morris at Canadian Tire Centre. It was an intense, rollicking affair that turned when Gushue delivered a tap for four points in the eighth end.

The St. John's, N.L., skip — who jawed with teammates and opponents alike during the game — pumped his fist and held his stare after delivering the clutch throw.

"We're doing a lot of things right, we just haven't gained any traction yet," Gushue said. "It certainly felt like we were starting to gain it. It would have been a sin for me not to finish it off."

Gushue gave up three in the third end after ticking a guard, but pulled even in the fourth with a deuce. He chirped at Morris at one point in the fifth, picked up a steal, and gave second Brett Gallant an earful during the mid-game break. 

Gushue seemed determined to will his team to victory.

"Sometimes I walk a fine line because I can get a little bit too intense for the guys," he said. "But they know what I'm like."

Reigning Olympic champion Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., beat Gushue 7-4 in the evening draw. Gushue, who fell to 2-2, couldn't recover after giving up three points in the third end due to a picked stone.

The team's first loss of the competition was a 6-4 decision to Toronto's John Epping over the weekend. Gushue used terms like "shocked" and "mindblown" to describe his teammates' play in the final end of the opener.

A post-game talk from the skipper — just like at the Brier nine months ago — soon followed.

"A very similar chat," said fifth Tom Sallows. "Everybody supports everybody so that's the main thing. Just getting back to remembering what got you here and what makes them one of the best in the world."

"Brad will give them a lecture but it's meaningful," added coach Jules Owchar. "It isn't like slamming a guy down."

Gushue shot 80 per cent against Morris while the team was 81 per cent overall. Perhaps more importantly, they played better with the hammer and gave themselves opportunities.

"I thought we put a lot of good ends together this morning that we hadn't done in the first two games," Gushue said.

His rink shot an impressive 92 per cent in the nightcap against Jacobs.

Ottawa's Rachel Homan defeated Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., 4-2 in the other morning game. Homan, the reigning world women's champion, had hammer in the 10th end and used it to score a single.

Calgary's Chelsea Carey beat Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Alta., in an afternoon battle of undefeated skips. Carey scored one in an extra end for an 8-7 victory.

In other afternoon games, Winnipeg's Mike McEwen topped Epping 8-5, Winnipeg's Reid Carruthers downed Saskatoon's Steve Laycock 9-5 and Edmonton's Val Sweeting doubled Toronto's Allison Flaxey 10-5.

Homan beat Winnipeg's Michelle Englot 11-7 in the evening draw while reigning Olympic champ Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg dumped Julie Tippin of Woodstock, Ont., 12-6.

Jones (4-0) and Carey (3-0) remained unbeaten after eight draws. Homan was next at 3-1, followed by Scheidegger (2-1), Tippin and McCarville (1-2).

Calgary's Kevin Koe scored a pair in the 10th end for a 7-6 win over Edmonton's Brendan Bottcher. Koe led the men's standings at 4-0, followed by McEwen (3-0), Jacobs (2-1) and Gushue (2-2).

Round-robin play continues through Friday and the finals are scheduled for Sunday. The winning teams will represent Canada at the Feb. 9-25 Pyeongchang Olympics.

The Trials — officially called the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings — is arguably the toughest event to win in curling. There are no easy games and emotions can get high with the Olympic carrot in play.

Gushue gave Morris an earful at one point in their morning game after some contact was made in the house. Gushue third Mark Nichols took an accidental slash to the hand as Morris backed up to sweep.

Gushue felt Morris could have swept from the other side. The Vernon, B.C., skip noted that since he called the shot he had first right of the house.

"I didn't know he was behind me and I backed up quickly and I caught him," Morris said. "There was no harm done and it was all good."

Nichols wasn't hurt.

"What happened on the ice is no big deal," he said. "No drama."

Gushue is looking to get back to the Olympics for the first time since winning gold at the 2006 Turin Games.

"Brad's intensity comes from the right place," Gallant said. "He keeps us on our toes and keeps us sharp. We know he's expecting us to be on point. It's good.

"That's the way he performs his best as well so we realize that. Any time we see him in the zone like that, we just ride that."


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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press