LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — After a whirlwind winter season that included an Olympic bronze medal in Beijing just a few weeks ago, expectations were rather low for Brad Gushue's team at the Tim Hortons Brier.

His short-handed Wild Card One side would wildly exceed them.

With vice Mark Nichols out for the final weekend due to COVID-19, Gushue and teammates Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker pulled off a 9-8 victory over Alberta's Kevin Koe on Sunday to win the national men's curling championship for the fourth time in six years.

"This is pretty amazing," Gushue said. "I never thought this would happen when Mark went down. It's a bit of a shock for us."

The St. John's-based team won three straight must-win playoff games as a trio. Before topping Koe, Gushue beat Saskatchewan's Colton Flasch in the 3-4 Page playoff and defeated Canada's Brendan Bottcher in the semifinal.

With Koe's side well-rested after winning the 1-2 Page game a night earlier, the near-sellout crowd at the Enmax Centre was treated to a back-and-forth battle with plenty of scoring.

Koe's chance for a game-winning three-point end in the 10th was stifled by a Gushue raise double-takeout. Gushue then controlled the extra end and took out an Alberta stone on the four-foot ring for the victory.

"What the three of us pulled off here the last few days, man oh man, it's pretty crazy," said Gushue, who threw 93 per cent. "I never thought a team of three could go through a gauntlet of Koe, Bottcher and Flasch in a Brier playoff."

Both teams struggled somewhat at the outset. Gallant flashed a stone in the second end that led to a Koe deuce. Alberta vice B.J. Neufeld rubbed guards twice in the third end and Gushue drew for three after a Koe runback missed wide.

A Koe tap for two gave Alberta a 4-3 lead into the fifth-end break.

Gushue picked up his second three-ender of the game in the sixth. Koe cleared one stone on a triple-takeout attempt and Gushue drew the four-foot to regain the lead.

"The three-pointers was the theme for us today," Gallant said. "We had some big ends and just capitalized on them. That was the difference."

Koe made a hit for two to tie the game in the seventh after Gushue failed to bury a hit-and-roll attempt. Gushue was forced to a single in the eighth and stole a point in the ninth when Koe's draw was light.

In the 10th, Koe could only hit for two and the tie, giving up hammer in the process.

Koe, who threw 81 per cent, was unable to build for a steal in the extra end. One Alberta stone was on the 12-foot ring and Koe drew his final stone to the four-foot before Gushue cleared it and stuck for the victory.

"I thought this one was ours for the taking," Koe said. "We were playing good."

Gushue's fourth career Brier title as a skip tied him with Koe, Kevin Martin, Randy Ferbey and Ernie Richardson for top spot on the all-time list. It's also the first time that a wild-card entry has won the Brier.

"I'm definitely on a high right now," Gallant said. "This is exciting. I can't believe we got that done. I'll be on cloud nine for a few more days."

Gushue's team trained in British Columbia for a few weeks in late January before heading to China and taking third place at the Winter Games.

After the long flight home, they got a chance to enjoy a few days of rest before making the trek to Lethbridge.

Gushue admitted his gas tank was about half full throughout the week, but his team still won all eight round-robin games.

When Nichols went down, he pegged his team's chances of victory at less than 10 per cent given the mental and physical drain of playing as a threesome.

Now the team is $108,000 richer and will soon represent Canada once again, this time at the April 2-10 world men's curling championship in Las Vegas.

Koe, from Calgary, and his team of Neufeld, John Morris and Ben Hebert earned $60,000 for silver. Bottcher's rink claimed $40,000.

Kerri Einarson won her third straight Scotties Tournament of Hearts title last month. She'll wear the Maple Leaf at the March 19-27 women's world curling championship in Prince George, B.C.

Overall attendance over the 10-day Brier was 74,238. Gushue will return as Team Canada at the 2023 Brier at the Budweiser Gardens in London, Ont.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 13, 2022.

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