03/06/2013 06:41 EST | Updated 05/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Newfoundland's Gushue closer to playoffs at Canadian curling championship

EDMONTON - Brad Gushue's young curling team has made the most of their benevolent schedule at the Canadian men's curling championship.

Now this is where the rubber hits the road for Newfoundland and Labrador, who won seven in a row to open the Tim Hortons Brier.

Their final four opponents in the preliminary round have won at least one Canadian championship if not multiple titles.

"We can't really look at the block of teams because if you do, you're going to get a little bit, yeah, freaked out," Gushue said Wednesday.

His St. John's rink finishes against three-time champion Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba, defending and world champion Glenn Howard of Ontario, reigning Olympic champion Kevin Martin of Alberta and 2006 Canadian champion Jean-Michel Menard of Quebec.

"The key is to go out there, play well, maybe catch a break, maybe make a big shot and get a win out of it," Gushue said. "I'm happy with how we're playing. I like our chances against the guys we're coming up against."

Newfoundland and Ontario, which was 6-0, were the remaining undefeated teams and both had games at night Wednesday. Gushue was to face Stoughton, who was 5-1.

Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs and Quebec were tied at 5-2 ahead of James Grattan of New Brunswick at 4-3. At 2-4, Martin had to win his remaining games for the host province to have any chance at playing into the weekend.

Saskatchewan's Brock Virtue and Jamie Koe of the Territories were 3-4. B.C.'s Andrew Bilesky was 0-6. Eddie MacKenzie of Prince Edward Island and Paul Flemming of Nova Scotia were winless in seven games.

The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin Friday night advance to the Page playoff. Ties for fourth are solved by tiebreaker games.

While 7-4 has been good enough for playoffs or tiebreaker games some years, eight wins is considered safer playoff territory.

The top two teams in the standings meet in one Page playoff game with the winner earning a direct berth into Sunday's championship game. The loser falls to the semifinal to face the winner between the third and fourth seeds.

At just 32, Gushue is skipping his province for a 10th time at the Brier. The 2006 Olympic champion reached the playoffs six of his nine previous appearances, but hasn't won a Canadian title yet.

Third Brett Gallant, 23, is playing in his first Brier. Second Adam Casey, 23, and lead Geoff Walker, 27, are playing in their second in as many years.

Newfoundland was considered a second-tier contender behind the "big three" of Martin, Stoughton and Howard because of Gushue's experience and his Olympic gold medal from 2006.

Gushue, Casey and Walker faced Jacobs, Stoughton and Howard in their first three games last year in Saskatoon and started 0-3. They lost five of their first six games en route to a 5-6 record.

"It kind of destroyed everybody's confidence," Gushue recalled

Avoiding the heavyweights early in Edmonton, but also making the required shots to beat their first seven opponents, has helped Gushue's teammates build both a bubble of confidence and a cushion of victories.

"We played a few familiar teams we've played against before on the East Coast to start the week, a couple of ex-teammates and people we're used to playing," Gallant explained. "For myself, it was kind of nice to be playing against familiar faces.

"We do play against Jeff and Kevin and Glenn on the tour, but in a setting like this, it's kind of their home turf. We're getting used to it now and getting comfortable out there."

Teams not considered favourites can pull off upsets as New Brunswick's win over Alberta on Tuesday demonstrated. Newfoundland beat both New Brunswick and Northern Ontario in extra ends during their winning streak.

"You always want to win the games you're supposed to win and in the worst case, split the rest and see where you are at the end of it," Gushue said.

"Usually that will kind of get you to the 8-3 mark and if you can steal another win or two, you're getting yourself in the 1-2 game. That's kind of how I always viewed it. It's worked for us the last couple of times we've been in the 1-2. Hopefully we can pull that off again."