Alberta’s Bottcher hands Wild Card 3’s Middaugh his 1st loss at the Brier

Manitoba’s Jason Gunnlaugson moved into sole possession of first place in Pool A at the Canadian men’s curling championship on Monday after an 8-5 victory over Wild Card One’s Mike McEwen.

Gunnlaugson was the only unbeaten skip in the nine-team pool at 3-0.

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“It’s a good start but it’s a long, long week,” Gunnlaugson said.

Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher defeated Wild Card Three’s Wayne Middaugh 5-3 to hand the veteran skip his first loss of the preliminary round.

Bottcher, who has reached the Tim Hortons Brier final in each of the last three years, earned a critical steal in the eighth end of the 5-3 win when Middaugh was light on his draw.

“It’s early in the week but these wins count as much as the ones on Thursday, Friday and Saturday,” Bottcher said. “You need to win them while you can.

“We played a really good game there and it was nice to cap it off and pull out the W.”

In other afternoon games, British Columbia’s Steve Laycock dumped Yukon’s Dustin Mikkelsen 9-2 and New Brunswick’s James Grattan edged Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs 7-6 in an extra end.

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Gunnlaugson, who was 5-6 in his Brier main draw debut last year, has already knocked off two expected contenders in McEwen and Bottcher.

“It’s hard to put into words how valuable it is to have a guy like Jay on your team,” Manitoba lead Connor Njegovan. “Everything is so planned out and when he’s hitting well, it’s very hard to stop us.”

New Brunswick and Alberta were tied in second place at 3-1. Wild Card One and Northern Ontario were 2-2 while B.C. improved to 1-2.

Middaugh is filling in at skip for Glenn Howard, who injured his ribs in a recent snowmobile crash. Howard is serving as the team fifth this week.

The Northwest Territories (0-3) and Yukon (0-4) remained winless.

Pool B teams were to square off in Monday’s late draw at the WinSport Arena.

Kevin Koe’s first-place Wild Card Two (4-0) was to meet Nunavut’s Peter Mackey (0-3) and Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone was to face Canada’s Brad Gushue in a battle of 2-1 rinks.

Quebec’s Michael Fournier (3-1), who was tied in second place with idle Ontario skip John Epping, was to play Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald (2-2).

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P.E.I.’s Eddie MacKenzie (0-3) was to take on Greg Smith of Newfoundland and Labrador (0-4) in the other game.

The preliminary round continues through Thursday night at the Markin MacPhail Centre on the grounds of Canada Olympic Park. The top four teams in each pool will advance to the two-day championship round.

The final is set for Sunday night. The winner will represent Canada at the world men’s curling championship next month at the same venue.

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