TORONTO — Canada’s Team Brad Gushue will take on Italy’s Team Joël Retornaz for the men’s title in the Princess Auto Players’ Championship.

Gushue and his crew from St. John’s, N.L., got by Scotland’s Team Bruce Mouat and Retornaz defeated Canada’s Team Mike McEwen by identical 6-5 scores Saturday night in front of a soldout crowd at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

Both Gushue and Retornaz arrived at the season finale event straight from the world championships. They also both finished on the podium in Switzerland — with Gushue earning silver and Retornaz taking bronze — and may have arrived here fatigued but are pushing to the end with one game remaining before the summer break.

“It feels amazing right now,” Retornaz said. “I mean, we had two tough weeks at the worlds plus here, lots of games. We played 15 games in eight days at the worlds, 10-end games, and now here and we made it to the final. It’s awesome. The way the team is performing even though they’re tired physically because of the game, because of the time difference and everything, but they’re just performing, giving everything we have out there and we’re just trying to make shots and coming up with a win. This one was very important and to make it to the final is unbelievable.”

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Gushue is aiming for a 15th Grand Slam of Curling title, drawing him another step closer to legendary skip Kevin Martin’s all-time record of 18.

“It’ll be exciting,” said Gushue, who calls the Players’ Championship his favourite event. “It’s been a long time since I’ve won (the Players’). It was 2016, so yeah, eight years. … We were in one final, so it’s nice to be back in it, but it’s tough to get to Slam finals. It’s tough to win, so we’ll see what happens. 

“I think it’s a real toss-up between us and Joël. It’ll probably come down to who gets a break or who gets a key shot at the right time.”

Retornaz is aiming for a record fourth championship in the series during a single season. He said it’s sick to think about how he was just making his Grand Slam debut at the Players’ Championship two years ago and now is on the brink of history.

“We were discussing this, this morning at breakfast with my teammates, if you look back at two, three years ago we would not have even thought, first of all, being in the Slams, we’re always watching the Slams from home and now we’re playing for titles,” said Retornaz, who won three consecutive Grand Slams to start the season. “We’re the No. 1 ranked team in the world and we’re going to be until the end of the season because I think it’s mathematic we’re going to be the No. 1 ranked team in the world, so it’s been a great season but it started last year. Already we were winning spiels and we won a Slam last year. We keep building our team with [coach] Ryan Fry on the team this year, he’s a good add-on for the team. 

“Everything is working so well right now even though we struggled a bit. Not everything was that fluid, especially at the worlds and even here at the beginning of the week we lost our first two games. So we were 0-2 after two games but that’s who we are. We don’t give up. We do our best until the end and we’ll see where we are at the end of the competition.”

Both teams finished pool play with 3-2 records. Gushue came from behind to dispatch Scotland’s Team Ross Whyte 6-5 and Retornaz brushed aside Sweden’s Team Niklas Edin, who captured the gold medal at the men’s worlds, 7-2 during the afternoon quarterfinals.

Gushue also erased an early deficit (and avenged a round-robin loss) against Mouat, who was forced to a single the first but swiped two points in the second when the six-time Brier winner wrecked against two guards. 

A huge third end allowed Gushue to draw for the equalizing three points. Mouat was forced to one in the fifth, and Gushue grabbed his first lead of the game in the sixth with a deuce to make it 5-4. Gushue forced Mouat to a tying single in the seventh to take the hammer coming home and didn’t need to throw his last in the eighth end as he was already sitting shot rock and Mouat misfired his final shot.

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Gushue called it “a little bit of smoke and mirrors” as he doesn’t believe his team is playing anywhere near its best.

“We’ve played better and not gotten this far, just making some shots at the right time, getting some misses at the right time, and pulled some games out,” Gushue said. “We gave up two earlier against Ross and found a way to win and then we were down 3-0 there against Bruce and found away, so it’s exciting. It’s nice to be back in another Players’ final. Hopefully, we can play our best tomorrow.”

Retornaz also fell behind to start against McEwen — who had a bye to the semis like Mouat and opened with the hammer — blanked the first couple of ends and his patience paid off with a two-point conversion in the third end. After Retornaz responded with a deuce in four, he grabbed the lead with a single steal in the six. 

McEwen put a crooked number on the board in the seventh with a count of three, however, Retornaz charged right back and capped off an incredible eighth end pulling off a cross-house hit for the winning trio of points.

“Of course, we know the game is not over until it’s over, so we know we have chances to score multiple in the last end,” Retornaz said. “We were looking for a deuce and thought if we could get some chances to score three points, we can win this game. We played every rock paying attention to details and trying to do our best and we didn’t look at the scoreboard and hoping I had a shot on my last one for three or for two.”

Gushue and Retornaz know each other quite well on the ice with their first game taking place way back at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. Although Gushue won the gold medal during those Olympics in Turin, he did lose to Retornaz during their clash in round-robin play.

Gushue now holds a lopsided 11-2 advantage all-time in head-to-head meetings, but knows his team will have to play better Sunday.

“I think they’ve been the best team in the world this year and had a lot of success at the Slams, so we know we’ve got to play a little bit sharper than we have,” Gushue said. “But I know if we play well, we get a break or two, we’ll come out on top. The thing is, we just have to play a little bit sharper, clean up some of the misses that we’ve had, especially early in the game, and we’ll see what happens.”

It’ll be a rematch of last year’s final on the women’s side between defending champ Team Isabella Wranå of Sweden and Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland.

Wranå, who captured her first career Grand Slam title one year ago, defeated South Korea’s Team Eunji Gim 6-5 while Tirinzoni topped Canada’s Team Rachel Homan 5-3.

Both women’s semis were won on steals. Gim came up an inch short on her final draw with the measure going in Wranå’s favour after a second check.

Team Tirinzoni’s fourth Alina Pätz rolled deep on her last, but her side still sat first and second shot rock. Homan had to draw around a wall of granite but couldn’t get it in far enough.

The women’s final kicks off Championship Sunday at 10 a.m. ET / 7 a.m. PT on Sportsnet and Sportsnet+.

The men’s final goes down at 2:30 p.m. ET / 11:30 a.m. PT on Sportsnet 360 and Sportsnet+.



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