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Magic Mike: Ontario's McEwen sends host team to final four, Bottcher also wins

LONDON, Ont. — Mike McEwen's first lead of the game came at the perfect time.
Manitoba skip Matt Dunstone celebrates after defeating Wild Card Team 1 in playoff action at the 2023 Tim Hortons Brier in London, Ont. on Friday March 10, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

LONDON, Ont. — Mike McEwen's first lead of the game came at the perfect time.

The Ontario skip made a big-weight hit to score a pair in the 10th end for a thrilling 9-8 victory over Alberta's Kevin Koe in a crossover elimination game Friday afternoon at the Tim Hortons Brier.

"That was one for the ages," McEwen said. "I haven't been in a game quite like that in some time."

The victory moved the home side into the four-team Page playoffs on the weekend at Budweiser Gardens. Wild Card 1's Brendan Bottcher also advanced with an 8-5 win over Northern Ontario's Tanner Horgan.

Bottcher controlled the game after scoring three in the third end. His teammates all shot at least 90 per cent and held a plucky Northern Ontario side to a few singles after an early deuce.

"I think we still have another gear," Bottcher said. "To win one of these you've got to play really well on the weekend. We're trending in the right direction."

The Ontario-Alberta game lasted about five minutes longer, allowing the partisan crowd to fully concentrate on the late efforts of McEwen and teammates Ryan Fry, Brent Laing and Joe Hart.

Ontario set up the end nicely and McEwen made the Alberta stones spill to the delight of the 5,152 in attendance.

"Anything Kevin did, we matched and then back and forth, back and forth, the entire game," McEwen said. "That was a special playoff game.

"There's always great playoff games but that ranks up there as one of the most entertaining that I've ever been a part of."

Koe, who shot 79 per cent, scored pairs in the fifth and seventh ends. A ninth-end miss led to a force and McEwen took advantage with hammer coming home.

"We didn't play well," Koe said. "We let them hang around and they made us pay."

McEwen couldn't duplicate the effort in the evening, dropping a 9-3 decision to defending champion Brad Gushue in a seeding game. Unbeaten Manitoba skip Matt Dunstone beat Bottcher 5-3 in the other matchup.

Dunstone made a game-winner by throwing his stone through a small port for the hit to score three.

"Oh man, this team has been waiting for that moment all year," Dunstone said. "We haven't really had a moment where we had a shot to win a game like that. Obviously a big moment."

Dunstone and Gushue earned byes to the seeding round after finishing first in their respective nine-team pools in round-robin play. They'll square off in the Page 1-2 game on Saturday night while McEwen and Bottcher will meet in the Page 3-4 matchup earlier in the day.

The Page 1-2 winner goes directly to the final on Sunday night while the loser falls into the semifinal against the Page 3-4 winner. The 3-4 loser will be eliminated.

Earlier, Horgan held Bottcher to a single in the first and took the lead with a deuce in the second end.

But Wild Card 1 second Brett Gallant made a runback triple-takeout in the third and a Horgan stone flashed later in the end. That set up Bottcher for a three-ender that turned the game in his favour.

Northern Ontario lead Colin Hodgson threw a perfect game in his final Brier appearance. He will be retiring from the men's team game at the end of the season.

The crowd gave him a big ovation as he made his way down the sheet after the teams shook hands.

"It was definitely the most special moment I've had," Hodgson said.

The Brier champion will represent Canada at the April 1-9 world men's curling championship in Ottawa.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2023.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press