Manitoba’s Dunstone in strong form, appears primed for Brier breakthrough

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LONDON, Ont. — Matt Dunstone is skipping the top-ranked men’s curling team in Canada. His squad has displayed strong form all season. Everything seems to be in place for a Brier breakout.

Now it’s a matter of getting results when it really matters.

“On paper we have a really good chance to win it,” Dunstone said. “We take confidence in that.”

The two-time national men’s bronze medallist is anchoring a new team out of Manitoba this season that includes vice B.J.Neufeld, second Colton Lott and lead Ryan Harnden. They have rolled through the first half of round-robin play at the Tim Hortons Brier.

“We know this is more than just four individuals,” said coach Adam Kingsbury. “It’s coming together and actually being able to execute as a team.”

Manitoba improved to 4-0 on Tuesday with an 8-4 victory over Nova Scotia’s Matthew Manuel.

Dunstone gave up three points in the fifth end — one of only a couple hiccups in the competition so far — before answering with three of his own in the sixth and adding a pair of late steals.

“It just speaks volumes about this team and the tenacity of this team,” Dunstone said. “We’re playing well.”

Dunstone changed his lineup in the off-season, bringing in former Brier champions Neufeld and Harnden while reuniting with Lott, his old junior teammate.

The new foursome, affiliated with Winnipeg’s Fort Rouge Curling Club, has won three events over the campaign and outscored the competition 41-13 through four games at Budweiser Gardens.

“We’ve had a great year and I think we’ve built a really good dynamic between the four of us,” said Harnden. “We’ve become great friends and I think it has just carried into this event.”

Dunstone is a good bet to make the three-team cut in a nine-team Pool A group that includes Alberta’s Kevin Koe, Wild Card 2’s Reid Carruthers and Northern Ontario’s Tanner Horgan.

In other early games, Ontario’s Mike McEwen beat Yukon’s Thomas Scoffin 10-7, Brendan Bottcher of Wild Card 1 edged New Brunswick’s Scott Jones 8-7 and Koe beat Nathan Young of Newfoundland and Labrador 6-4.

The Pool B headliners include Bottcher, McEwen, Canada’s Brad Gushue and Wild Card 3’s Karsten Sturmay.

Gushue posted a 6-3 win over Bottcher in afternoon play. Manuel defeated Saskatchewan’s Kelly Knapp 9-7, Sturmay dropped a 6-3 decision to Quebec’s Felix Asselin and Young shaded Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories 8-7.

Dunstone and Lott won a pair of Canadian junior titles together while Harnden won Olympic gold in 2014. Harnden and Neufeld also own world silver medals.

Kingsbury, meanwhile, has worked with Dunstone in recent seasons and coached a variety of teams on the national, world and Olympic stage.

“I think all the pieces are there,” Kingsbury said. “I truly do.”

Dunstone came a few inches from reaching the Brier championship game in 2020, but dropped a 7-6 decision to Gushue. He returned to the semifinal a year later but Bottcher made a game-winning angle-raise in a 6-5 victory.

“I think there’s this knowledge to know precisely what it takes to not only compete but to be there on the weekend,” Kingsbury said. “I think the difference (this year) is that there’s a belief that if these four guys bring what they’re capable of that there’s not a team out here that they couldn’t stack up against.”

After 10 draws, Dunstone was tied with Koe with a cumulative shooting percentage of 89 per cent. Harnden (94 per cent), Neufeld (95 per cent) and Lott (82 per cent) had also posted solid numbers.

Manitoba was scheduled to return to the ice Tuesday night against Carruthers.

“Everyone always talks about how (Dunstone) has those highlight-reel moment shots,” Kingsbury said. “But he is arguably one of the best (at draws) in the game. So his ability to command draw weight, his ability to read ice and figure out what he needs to give the guys, that has been remarkable.

“As much as everyone talks about his high hard ones, I’ve actually been most impressed by his ability to draw.”

Round-robin play continues through Thursday evening. The final is scheduled for Sunday night.

The winning team will represent Canada at the April 1-9 world men’s curling championship in Ottawa.

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