LONDON, Ont. — The final rock thrown and handshakes complete, Brent Laing stood with his hands on his hips and took a slow look around Budweiser Gardens.
He did the same thing five years ago at the Gangneung Curling Centre in South Korea, thinking the Pyeongchang Games would probably be his last Olympics.
When his Ontario side was eliminated Saturday after a 6-3 loss to Brendan Bottcher, Laing took a moment to savour the moment just in case it's his last Tim Hortons Brier.
"At this stage of my career, I'm a little more appreciative of all the things I used to take for granted," Laing said. "So make sure you make a memory."
In the Page 1-2 game, defending champ Brad Gushue stole a point in the 10th end for a 5-4 win over Manitoba's Matt Dunstone to earn a berth in Sunday's final.
Dunstone had a tricky nose hit for the win but the stone rolled out.
"I liked how I threw it, (it was) maybe a little bit heavy," he said. "It just didn't come up and (I) missed it by an inch."
Dunstone scored a pair in the third end but Gushue answered with a deuce in the fourth. Dunstone blanked three straight ends before giving up the single for his first loss of the competition.
He will next play Bottcher in Sunday's semifinal.
Earlier, Bottcher started with hammer and controlled most of the game. A sixth-end deuce put the pressure on skip Mike McEwen and the host Ontario team couldn't quite deliver the big shot it needed.
Both skips had some early misses but neither team could take advantage. Bottcher missed a runback in the second end but McEwen knocked his own stone out to set up a force.
McEwen made a soft tap for a single against three in the fourth end but ticked a guard in the sixth and missed a double-takeout attempt. A wide runback in the ninth was also costly.
Bottcher, third Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert all shot at least 90 per cent and Wild Card 1 had a slight edge in overall team percentage.
"It was a really well-played game," Laing said. "At times it felt like we brought a knife to a gunfight. They didn't really miss much."
McEwen nearly tied the game in the seventh end with an angle-raise double but his shooter spun out and he settled for a single.
"They put on a hitting clinic," McEwen said. "It's not too often you see a team convert that many runs and doubles."
McEwen's side barely made it to the provincial playdowns this season. After a disappointing autumn, they managed to get a berth in the Ontario championship via a last-chance qualifier.
The team parted ways with Jonathan Beuk in January and brought in lead Joe Hart and his father, Richard, as coach.
The changes paid immediate dividends. McEwen topped John Epping and Glenn Howard en route to the Ontario crown. A 6-2 round-robin record at the nationals secured a berth in the playoff round.
"If you told me in December this is how it would end, where do I sign?" Laing said.
The loss also ended the season for the team as it didn't qualify for the remaining Grand Slam events on the calendar.
McEwen is two years younger than Laing and vice Ryan Fry, who are 44. It's unclear whether they'll push forward as a unit for the rest of the quadrennial.
They did have some highlight moments over the week, reeling off four straight round-robin wins after a middling start. A thrilling 9-8 final-shot victory over Alberta's Kevin Koe in a Friday elimination game showed the team can still deliver in big moments.
"We were in the grave before Christmas," McEwen said. "We pretty much wrote ourselves off and everybody else wrote us off. And here we are in the final four in Canada.
"I'm really proud of how we turned this around."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2023.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press