Brad Gushue knows the road to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi will be a tough one, and this weekend he’s test driving a new lineup he hopes will guide him towards another gold medal.
With long-time third Mark Nichols stepping away from the game for the foreseeable future, and Jamie Danbrook’s future very much in doubt, the 2006 Olympic champion skip is auditioning a new second and lead stone at the Victoria Curling Classic World Curling Tour stop.
Vying for spots on the team are Geoff Walker, 25, and 21-year-old Adam Casey. Walker, from Grand Prairie, Alta., was a two-time world junior champion with Calgary’s Charley Thomas and recently skipped a team to a third-place finish at the Alberta men’s provincial playdowns behind Kevin Martin and Kevin Koe.
“He’s snuck under the radar for a couple of years and hasn’t caught on with one of the big Edmonton teams,” Gushue says. “He’s got some talent, but hasn’t had the opportunity to jump on a top team.”
Casey, a native of Summerside, P.E.I., was part of Brett Gallant’s world junior silver medal-winning rink in 2009.
That team included Danbrook, who threw lead stones for Gushue at this year’s Brier. However, the Vdernon, B.C, native, “is looking at moving away,” according to Gushue, and won’t be available to the team next season.
“After we found out Mark (Nichols) was done, we made a list and came up with 12 names,” said Gushue of he and second stone-turned-third Ryan Fry’s search for a new front end.
“The first question we asked anybody on our list wasn’t ‘would you like to play on our team,’” he says, “it was ‘would you be willing to move to Newfoundland?’”
In order to compete in the Tankard provincial men’s championship, and earn a berth at the Brier, all members of the rink are required to be residents of the province.
“Both are willing to move down and be here full-time and work towards winning a Brier and hopefully getting back to the Olympics,” Gushue maintains.
“I’m going to expect them to work as hard or harder than I do. If they do, their talent will come out and their games will improve dramatically over a two- or three-year span.”
Walker, who currently works in the insurance industry, jumped at the chance to join what he considers, “a top five team in Canada.”
“I’m at a point in my life — I’m only 25 — where I’m not tied down to anything. When an opportunity like this comes, you can’t pass it up,” he said.
Gushue recognizes that selecting a pair of mainlanders to join his rink — bringing the total to three with Fry hailing from Manitoba — will raise questions as to why someone from the local curling scene wasn’t selected.
The list included at least one local name, 2010 Brier spare Andrew Symonds. But like other potential locals, the demands of a four-year curling schedule made it impossible for Symonds to sign on.
“They’d love to be able to travel and compete the way we do,” Gushue said, “but family and jobs don’t always allow that to happen.”
This weekend’s event in B.C. isn’t the first time Walker and Casey will have taken to a sheet of ice with Gushue and Fry. The pair spent a weekend in St. John’s in mid-March going through six sessions over the three days.
“I asked them to do a lot of different things to see how open they were to making technical changes and how quickly they can make them,” Gushue says. “We ran them through just about every drill we could think of.”
Another aspect to the duo’s audition weekend was seeing if, “the personalities mixed well.
“We also wanted to get to know them personally to see if we’d be able to last three, or potentially seven years on the road together.”
Walker, who says Gushue and Fry were very accommodating during the brief visit, understands the importance of chemistry.
“It’s not just a weekend or a year, it’s hopefully a long-term thing and they want to make sure they make the right choice in terms of getting character guys,” he says.
“I’ve always seen myself as a guy who’s easy to get along with. I’m pretty easy going.”
Gushue, while confident Walker and Casey are the best available options, hasn’t made any final decisions.
“We’re still in the tryout phase, so we’ve made no commitments to the guys and we won’t make any until we’re 100 per cent confident this is the route we want to take.”