Still chasing the dream

Robin
Robin Short
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While his Olympic teammates have hung up their brooms, Gushue's passion for curling - and a Brier title - still burns bright

So, we've been catching up with Brad Gushue this week, chatting about family, his new business venture (frozen yogurt anyone?) and, oh yes, that little Brier thing.

This is Gushue's ninth ride to the Canadian senior men's championship, and he's still only 31. Funny, seems like he's been around since curlers needed ashtrays on the ice.

But it will be different this year, watching Gushue at the Brier. And, some might argue, just not that darn appealing anymore.

There's a couple of new, young whippersnappers on the front end, chap named Geoff Walker from Alberta throwing leads stones, and P.E.I.'s Adam Casey.

They're living in town now, crashing at third Ryan Fry's house. Fry is from Winnipeg, though he, too, hangs his hat in St. John's, working the past few years at Bally Haly.

Six years is only six years, but it might as well be a lifetime since Gushue shook the curling world off its axis, first by winning the Olympic Trials, and later the whole shebang in Torino, Italy.

It's different now. Mike Adam's not sweeping up anymore. No, he's managing an ice rink these days. Jamie Korab? Got rid of the red shoes for the more conservative coaching duds. Russ Howard? Skipper's still calling the games, only in the broadcast booth. Mark Nichols? The quiet, unheralded third, the yin to Gushue's yang? On the sidelines, the first winter in years - decades? - he hasn't thrown rocks.

And Gushue? Still out there every other weekend, mapping strategy, calling line in some curling outpost somewhere, dragging himself back across the country to kick-off a new work week.

And the question remains: why?

"I love the game, I love playing," he was saying this week. "When I was a teenager, I set some pretty high goals for myself and getting a Brier would be the last goal, and I want to do that.

"I have the full support of (wife) Christa and the rest of my family, and I'll keep playing until I don't enjoy it anymore. I still have a passion for it, and that's what keeps me going.

"Next to coming home to my family, the best part of my day is going down to the rink and throwing rocks and having that time to myself and playing the game I love."

By now, everyone knows about the list of goals and dreams Gushue had etched on his bedroom door ... the provincial junior, world junior and all-Newfoundland men's championships, the Brier wins, the Olympic gold medals.

Got it all, except the Brier win, which he's still chasing. But if there's any chance it will morph into reality, it will be in this 83rd championship in Saskatoon, that has only a shot glass full of contenders, among them Ontario legend Glenn Howard, Alberta's Kevin Koe and maybe upstart Brad Jacobs from Northern Ontario.

But the always-confident Gushue says he's not going to Saskatchewan with "extremely high expectations." For starters, there are the two rookies, albeit newbies with dandy junior credentials. And the foursome sputtered early in the World Curling Tour season.

"With the two new guys, we made some technical changes and it took some time getting used to them, and just getting used to each other's personalities and gelling as a team.

"It probably took a little longer than I had anticipated but once we turned the corner, we reached the semifinals in three of the last four events. So we're starting to come around."

Newfoundland, of course, has only one Brier championship, by Jack MacDuff back in 1976. Toby McDonald, Gushue's coach in Torino, curled on that MacDuff team, by the way, and is Gushue's fifth at this year's Brier.

It would be nice, frankly, to cease and desist the chatter about MacDuff, finally. But if Gushue is the one to end that ridiculous losing skid at the Canadian men's championship - he came close in 2007, finishing second - he will have to do it minus Nichols.

In Nichols, whose association with Gushue dates back before the two won a world junior championship together, Newfoundland had an all-world third to go with its all-world skip, a heavy hitter who was considered among the best in the game at his position.

"It's been different (not having Nichols around)," Gushue said. "Early on in the year, it was definitely different.

"I played 13 years with Mark, and you knew what to expect. All of a sudden, we have a brand new team and all the routines change, expectations change and it was a challenge.

"I think that may have played a factor in our slow start. But these guys now are committed 110 per cent. They work hard, they're fun to be around, and I'm enjoying it as much as I ever have."

Part of that enjoyment may stem from the fact Gushue might be a little less intense these days. McDonald even suggests the skip might be a tad "mellower".

But the desire to win is still there, and it's that desire that had Gushue look outside the province again when it became evident Nichols and Jamie Danbrook weren't returning this season.

But aren't there any curlers around here to fill the void?

"No, there isn't. Straight answer," he says. "I'm not going to bullshit around it.

"There is talent (in Newfoundland), don't get me wrong, but you have to combine that talent with the work ethic, with the life situation to be able to do what we do.

"You can have all the talent and drive in the world, but if you can't get away for 10-12 weekends a year to go compete, to throw rocks every day, it's not going to work.

"There are a lot of factors, and unfortunately there isn't anybody in Newfoundland who is willing to do that. I'm not saying there aren't talented curlers. I'm just saying they can't make the commitment to do what we do."

Whether the commitment from Gushue, Fry, Casey and Walker can lead to a Brier crown is anyone's guess. We won't know until next Sunday, when the event wraps up.

We do know, however, Gushue is still driving the bus, and apparently there's a lot of miles left in him yet.

Robin Short is The Telegram's Sports Editor. He can be reached by email at rshort@thetelegram.com.

 

Organizations: Olympic Trials

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Alberta, Torino Winnipeg St. John's Italy Saskatoon Ontario Northern Ontario Saskatchewan

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