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Northern Ontario’s Tanner Horgan books playoff ticket at Tim Hortons Brier

Northern Ontario coach Mike Harris didn’t say a word when Tanner Horgan vented some frustration by smacking the top of a water bottle a few times after giving up a mid-game steal on Thursday.
Team Nova Scotia skip Matthew Manuel reacts after giving up a steal of 3 to Northern Ontario at the 2023 Tim Hortons Brier in London, Ontario on Thursday March 9, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Frank Gunn

Northern Ontario coach Mike Harris didn’t say a word when Tanner Horgan vented some frustration by smacking the top of a water bottle a few times after giving up a mid-game steal on Thursday.

Lead Colin Hodgson, a grin on his face, later grabbed a napkin and helped soak up some of the spilled liquid on the coach’s bench.

Some intensity can often be a good thing for a Northern Ontario foursome that’s now playoff-bound at the Tim Hortons Brier.

“When he gets angry, he plays better,” said Darren Moulding, who skips but throws third stones. “I don’t know if I encourage it, but I don’t get worried when I see it.

“I know he’s there for us and I know he’s not going to give up. He doesn’t throw shots away because he’s mad.”

Horgan was able to reset and led the squad to a perfect eighth end against Nova Scotia’s Matthew Manuel. That led to a steal of three and a 7-4 win to lock up a top-three position in Pool A.

“We had our moment of frustration and then parked it and moved on,” Horgan said. “I thought we did that really well.”

Horgan (6-2) couldn’t duplicate the effort when he returned to Budweiser Gardens in the afternoon. He dropped a 9-2 decision to unbeaten Manitoba skip Matt Dunstone (8-0).

Alberta’s Kevin Koe earned the second seed at 7-1. He scored three in the 10th end for a 10-6 win over brother Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories (1-7).

In Pool B, Wild Card 1’s Brendan Bottcher (7-1) and Canada’s Brad Gushue (6-1) sealed playoff berths with morning victories.

Ontario’s Mike McEwen (5-2) and Quebec’s Felix Asselin (4-3) were in the mix for the third and final spot entering the evening draw. Ontario was to meet Wild Card 3’s Karsten Sturmay (3-4) and Quebec was to meet New Brunswick’s Scott Jones (1-6).

A tiebreaker, if necessary, would be played Friday morning.

Qualifier games were set for Friday afternoon ahead of seeding games in the evening. The four-team Page playoffs begin Saturday and the final goes Sunday evening.

Bottcher edged Quebec 8-7 and Gushue posted an 8-3 win over Wild Card 3.

“A couple days ago it felt like two steps forward and one step back,” Gushue said. “I think we’ve been taking steps forward now in the last couple games. It feels more like the team I’m used to.”

Saskatchewan’s Kelly Knapp (4-4) beat N.W.T. 6-5 in the morning and edged Reid Carruthers (4-4) of Wild Card 2 5-4 in the afternoon. Nathan Young (2-6) of Newfoundland and Labrador closed with an 8-5 win over Nova Scotia (3-5).

Moulding, meanwhile, has regained his strength following a recent bout with norovirus. He was on an IV for a stretch in late February, didn’t eat for a five-day period and lost 15 pounds.

“It was pretty rough,” he said. “I didn’t get to practise at all really before the event. I was very tired and it was tough. But I know the muscle memory and I’ve done this before.

“It took me a couple days and I think it showed in the way I was playing. But now I feel great again and I’m ready to go.”

Hodgson brings experience on the front end of the team with second Jacob Horgan — Tanner’s younger brother — who has come into form as a strong sweeper.

Moulding, meanwhile, has plenty of big-game Brier reps with four career final appearances and a 2021 title on Bottcher’s former team.

“I think it helps us a lot because I know the blueprint to winning this event and I can pass that on,” Moulding said.

“They know I’m honest when I tell them that we’re talented enough to win this because I’ve seen it and I know what it takes.”

It’s the Brier debut for Jacob Horgan while Tanner was an alternate at the 2018 national playdowns with Brad Jacobs, who won Olympic gold in 2014. All four Northern Ontario players have also been to the Olympic Trials with various lineups.

Northern Ontario’s early loss came to Kevin Koe last Sunday and the team struggled in two close victories that followed.

Harris, a 1998 Olympic silver medallist, talked with the players in the fifth-end break of those games against Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut, saying an “attitude adjustment” was needed.

“We just weren’t supportive enough of each other,” he said. “So we had a little chat about that and we’ve really changed the way we’re approaching the game mentally.

“That’s reflected in how well the guys have played.”

As for that fire from the fourth position, Harris noted it can be a fine line because you don’t want to give the opposition extra energy. His primary focus is on effective communication and responsibility on the ice.

“There’s no lack of intensity there,” Harris said with a chuckle. “I think maybe it’s a Northern Ontario thing. Brad Jacobs seemed to have that trait too.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 9, 2023.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press