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Alberta skip Kevin Koe delivers a stone as they play Northwest Territories/Yukon at the Brier curling championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia, March 11, 2010. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)
Alberta skip Kevin Koe delivers a stone as they play Northwest Territories/Yukon at the Brier curling championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia, March 11, 2010. REUTERS/Shaun Best (SHAUN BEST)

Alberta advances to Brier semi-final Add to ...

Kevin Koe didn't have much of a finishing kick, but there was enough in the tank for the win.

Koe and his Alberta teammates ran out to an early lead and then hung on to defeat Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador 6-5 in the 3-4 page playoff game at the Tim Hortons Brier. The victory pushed the rink into Saturday night's semi-final against Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario.

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The contest was one of two halves with Alberta controlling the first part of the game while Gushue's team fought back in the second half, forcing the Alberta skip to draw the lid with his last stone to secure the victory.

"We played pretty well there that game," said Koe, a veteran of the competitive circuit who is playing in his first Brier. "Even though they got back into it, we only missed the odd shot to let them sneak back in. We played well today and I think we can keep it going."

For Gushue, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist, the loss was hard to take. This was his seventh trip to the national championship but despite his Olympic glory, he's never been better than runner-up at the Brier.

"It was a slow start," admitted Gushue, 29. "That's what killed us. The first five ends it seemed like we had one shot to either set ourselves up for a good end or get ourselves out of an end and we didn't make it."

Koe and his team of Blake MacDonald, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen, took advantage of some shaky play by the Gushue team in the early going to jump out to a 4-1 lead after three ends, grabbing deuces in both the first and third.

While the Newfoundland and Labrador team was missing, the Albertans were solid with Koe being scored a perfect 100 per cent through the first half of the contest.

But Gushue and his rink of Mark Nichols, Ryan Fry and Jamie Korab, refused to go away quietly. After being forced to one in the sixth, the Newfoundland and Labrador skip executed a deft hit and roll behind cover that led to a steal of one to close the score to 4-3.

"It felt like we were just beating them up every end," said Koe, "but that steal [in the seventh]kind of turned the momentum in their favour and after that, we just hung on."

In the eighth, Gushue put Koe in all sorts of trouble again and forced him to draw the button for a single point. That worked in Gushue's favour as the team kept up the pressure in the ninth, scoring a deuce and tying the game coming home.

Despite the importance of that end, Nichols still managed to lighten things up. During a time out while the team weighed over two options for Gushue's first stone, he plopped his broom down in each spot and asked the audience to choose the shot the team should play by applause, getting a good roar of approval from the fans at the Metro Centre as well as chuckles from the players on both teams.

In the 10th, Gushue managed to get one on the corner of the four-foot but Koe made no mistake with his final rock, dropping it on the button for the winning point, and disappointing the large and loud pro-Newfoundland and Labrador fans.

"I thought we did a good job of taking the crowd out of it for the first six ends," Koe stated. "We won every end out there and I think that helped. But it's tough to keep a team like that down for 10 ends. They're going to find a way to keep pressure on you. They did but fortunately we made the key shots."

The two teams, among the pre-tournament favourites, came into the game with matching 8-3 records, neither one overly happy at their play during the week.

Gushue wasn't certain of his future other than to commit to some short-term plans.

"I'm probably going to get drunk tonight and probably going to razz the guys pretty good and they're going to give it to me pretty good,"

he chuckled.

Koe, who managed to break the 11-year provincial stranglehold held jointly by Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey when he won the Alberta crown to advance to the Brier, defeated Jacobs 9-6 in the first draw of this week's championship. He also knocked him off in one of the Grand Slam of Curling events earlier in the year.

The winner of that game moves on to Sunday evening's championship match against Ontario's Glenn Howard.

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