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Brier’s top seed Brendan Bottcher ousted from Brier in semifinal loss to Mike McEwen

Alberta-Bottcher skip Brendan Bottcher reacts to his shot in the 8th end of a 7-3 loss to Saskatchewan during the semifinal at the Brier, in Regina, on Sunday, March 10, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck. DD

The Brier’s top seed and the men’s curling team ranked No. 2 in the world exited the Canadian men’s championship in a Sunday semifinal loss.

Saskatchewan’s Mike McEwen reached Sunday’s final with a 7-3 win over Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher.

A Saskatchewan team advanced to the Brier’s final for the first time since Brad Heidt lost to Kerry Burtnyk in 1995 in Halifax. The last Saskatchewan team to win was Rick Folk’s in 1980.

The host province was a win away from the championship, but faced defending champion Brad Gushue chasing a three-peat and the sixth Brier title of his career.

“I can’t imagine a more electric situation,” McEwen said. “Brad is so loved by curling fans, right? To have that matchup in the final, that’s what everybody dreams of, both the athlete and the fan experience.”

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Bottcher’s Calgary lineup was built to win.

Third Marc Kennedy, Gushue’s former second Brett Gallant and lead Ben Hebert own a combined 10 Canadian and five world championships between them. Kennedy was an Olympic gold medallist in 2010 playing second for Kevin Martin.

Bottcher also won the 2021 Brier in his hometown with a different lineup.

His current team gained entry to Regina in April 2023 when Curling Canada changed its qualification criteria to allow the top two teams in Canada, minus the defending champion, early entry.

Bottcher ranked first this season among men’s teams in Canada and second in the world to Italy’s Joel Retornaz.

But Alberta wasn’t able to spin its big-game experience into gold in Regina.

“You always hope to go into these events and win and we certainly did,” Bottcher said. “I’m proud of the week we had. I thought we ground through another good week together.

“We’re on a great trajectory. We’re having a great season and by no means is your season defined by one day.”

After blanking the first two ends, McEwen got Bottcher chasing by scoring three points in the third and another three in the seventh to lead 6-2.

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Other than a steal of one in the fifth to trail 3-2, Bottcher couldn’t muster enough offence to overtake the host province. Alberta didn’t score two points in ends when it had last-rock advantage.

Bottcher shook hands after the ninth end when McEwen hit to count one.

“They came out and played great out of the gate, and they got a big three-ender there,” Bottcher said. “That kind of set the tone for the game. Then they followed it up by making a pile of shots the rest of the game.

“I thought we had a few chances and we weren’t able to capitalize and that’s really what some of these games come down to.”

If Bottcher maintains a top-three men’s ranking in Canada through April’s Players’ Championship in Toronto, his team can again qualify early for the 2025 Montana’s Brier in Kelowna, B.C.

The top-ranked team at the end of this season also gains a 2025 Olympic trials berth.

“I’m so proud to be playing with these guys,” Bottcher said. “They gave me a great week, all three of them. This is just one step along the journey.”

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