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Saskatchewan's McEwen, Prince Edward Island's Smith stay in Brier playoff hunt

Mike McEwen Mike McEwen - The Canadian Press

Tyler Smith was not yet born when a Prince Edward Island team last reached the playoffs at the Canadian men's curling championship.

Peter MacDonald's Summerside foursome reached the Brier's final four in 1996 via a tiebreaker victory before falling to Quebec's Don Westphal in the Page playoff between the third and fourth seeds.

Smith, born in 1998, has led P.E.I. to a 4-1 start at the 2024 Montana's Brier.

While there were still tough opponents ahead, including Wednesday's clash with defending champion Brad Gushue, Smith's Crapaud Curling Club foursome has turned heads in Regina.

"To put P.E.I. colours on your back and go out and perform the way we have so far really means a lot," the 25-year-old skip said after a 10-5 doubling of Quebec's Julien Smith on Tuesday afternoon.

"We're getting a lot of support from back home. People are becoming very, very interested because it's been awhile since P.E.I.'s been four and one at the Brier."

Smith, Saskatchewan's Mike McEwen and Northwest Territories' Jamie Koe, who had Tuesday off, were tied atop Pool B at 4-1.

Gushue was 4-2 and Nova Scotia's Matthew Manuel was 3-3 ahead of Tremblay and Alberta's Aaron Sluchinski both at 2-3.

Northern Ontario's Trevor Bonot (5-1) controlled Pool A with Tuesday evening's 10-6 win over B.C.'s Catlin Schneider (3-3) after beating Ontario's Scott Howard (3-3) in the morning.

"It feels amazing," Bonot said. "The boys, just so proud of how they played today. It's a two-game day. It's a grind. We gutted it out. We weren't super-sharp at all times, but we held on and held belief and believed in each other and made sure we came on top."

The Thunder Bay foursome had Wednesday off before capping pool play Thursday against Manitoba's Matt Dunstone (3-2) and Yukon's Thomas Scoffin (1-4).

Alberta's Brendan Bottcher and Manitoba's Reid Carruthers were even at 4-1 with Tuesday victories.

Bottcher, who missed a draw for the win in a loss to Bonos the previous night, threw a tricky double takeout to finish off Manitoba's Matt Dunstone in a 10-5 win with playoff implications. 

The top three teams in each pool of nine advance to Friday's six-team playoff. Tiebreaker games were eliminated from the format. Head-to-head results are the first tiebreaker.

"Well, it could definitely be important," Bottcher said. "As you've seen this week, there have been a few upsets along the way, so definitely every win you can notch in your column, good. 

"We had 36 hours off after kind of a heartbreaking loss yesterday, and it would have been easy to come out and maybe have some cobwebs or have some of that carry over and I thought we came out and just played great tonight."

Carruthers recovered from a morning loss to B.C. with a 7-3 victory over New Brunswick's James Grattan (0-5) at night, when Howard also beat Scoffin 8-3.

If head-to-head results don't solve ties for third in a pool, the cumulative scores in the draw-the-button that precede each game is the next formula. Saturday's four Page playoff teams will emerge from Friday's six-team round.

Three losses are considered the playoff danger zone, although a team reached the women's championship playoffs with four losses.

Smith, third Adam Cocks and lead Ed White are teammates a third straight Brier. They went 1-7 in Lethbridge, Alta., and 2-6 last year in London, Ont. 

Second Chris Gallant was their alternate in Lethbridge. He's the brother of Brett, who won four national titles and a world championship playing second for Gushue before joining Bottcher two years ago.

P.E.I. opened with a narrow 7-6 loss to McEwen before a run of four straight wins.

"We actually felt super comfortable out there right away," said Smith, who owns and operates an excavating company. "The first game the last couple of years, it's kind of been like, 'oh my God, it's your first game at the Brier, there's 5,000 people.' You can't replace experience. It matters a lot."

Sunday's winner will represent Canada at the world championship March 30 to April 7 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and return to the 2025 Montana's Brier in Kelowna, B.C., as defending champion.

The victor also gains an Olympic trials berth in 2025 pending a top-six result at the world championship.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2024.