Four years ago, when Brad Gushue was being unfairly pilloried from all corners after gassing Jamie Korab from his team, the skip, only 12 months removed from Olympic gold, chatted privately about quitting the game.
Turns out it was just talk, fuelled by frustration and perhaps a bit of resentment.
Gushue had the passion then, and now, at 30, still has plenty left on the drive chain. So much so, he’s not just looking at making a run at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, but also has an eye on the 2018 Games as well.
“I’d hate to give it up before I actually get as good as I could be at this game,” he said.
But with news this week (surprising to some, not so much to others) that all-world third Mark Nichols is stepping away from curling for a while following the Tim Hortons Brier, which starts today in London, Ont., things just got a wee bit more complicated for Gushue, the last man standing from the 2006 Olympic champs.
Talk about a change in dynamics from ’06. ... Toby McDonald, coach of the team that year, promptly retired. Not far behind was Russ Howard, who traded in his broom for a TSN microphone. Mike Adam, relegated to fifth again following the Olympics, in favour of Chris Schille, quit and eventually headed off to New Glasgow, N.S., where he manages a rink. Korab plans on curling left-handed in a Monday night league at the St. John’s Curling Club next winter.
And now Nichols. Where he lands, who knows, but he’s probably looking forward to the break.
A personal trainer, more than once did Nichols touch down in St. John’s midnight or 1 a.m. on a Monday, only to be up and at ’em at 6 a.m. to work the pounds off some client.
That would continue through the day and into the night — for four days, until Nichols, Gushue et al hopped aboard a plane Thursday for another cashspiel some place.
Nichols curled tired. He came home tired.
So now he’s done … for now, at least.
So, where does this leave Gushue and holdover Ryan Fry, who is/was throwing second stone? The third member of the team is young lead Jamie Danbrook, who barely played this season as the team tried its hand at a long-distance relationship with the portly Randy Ferbey.
And we all know by now how that turned out.
Around these parts, the pickings are slim. This year, six teams participated in the provincials, or 24 curlers. Of that, there’s a healthy majority who would be unable to commit the time and effort Gushue demands. And then there are the others who just aren’t good enough.
Shawn Adams could be an answer. The Nova Scotian came within a victory over Ferbey to win the Brier a few years ago, and is back to the curling nationals again as Nova Scotia’s skip.
Adams will be moving to St. John’s after the Brier, as Labatt’s new sales manager. But with a new job, Adams has been quoted in the Halifax papers as saying he won’t have a lot of time for curling.
So, it looks like Gushue will be going outside again, just as he did with Schille and Fry.
Fry once skipped his own junior team, and was Jeff Stoughton’s third in Winnipeg. So the cards figure to be in place for the Manitoban to slide into Nichols’ spot.
As for Danbrook, his short-term future, at least, depends on his showing in London. If the Vernon, B.C. product, who won a Canadian junior title curling out of P.E.I. last winter, can prove he can cut the mustard, Gushue will end up seeking out a second.
If not, the skip will be looking for a front-end package deal.
And while the team will only have a one-quarter Newfoundland makeup, Gushue expects the newcomer(s) to live and train in St. John’s.
So, 1. you’ve got to find one or two world-class curlers, and 2., convince him/them to move to Newfoundland.
“We are definitely limited in our options,” he acknowledged.
As for Nichols, best remembered for his clutch performance in the semifinal and final in Torino, it’s uncertain if and when he’ll return to the game.
Gushue figures the two will hook up again, but probably not in this four-year Olympic cycle, which will see Year 1 close out next month.
“My intentions are to put together a team for the next three years,” Gushue said.
“It would be unfair to those players to bump them off if everything is working.”
As for this week in London, Gushue said it will be a bit weird — definitely different — knowing this will be he and Nichols’s last Brier as teammates for a few years, perhaps longer.
With a Canadian and world junior title, Olympic Trials and Olympic gold medal already in the pocket, it’s but another incentive to win the last remaining crown jewel of curling.
“We want to go out on a high together,” Gushue said.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org