Curling confidence is a precarious thing. It can come out of nowhere and mysteriously vanish just as quickly.
Brad Gushue and his Newfoundland and Labrador team know both sides of that feeling here at the Canadian men’s curling championship.
The Gushue curling tsunami swept across Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and stretched as far as Saskatchewan before hitting some rocky shoals named New Brunswick and slowing down.
The momentum hasn’t halted, but the reality of how difficult it is to curl consistently well in the Tim Hortons Brier has struck home despite winning their first four games.
What comes next for Gushue, playing in his 10th Brier, rookie third Brent Gallant and Brier sophomores Adam Casey at second and lead Geoff Walker?
More of the same they hope, although they would appreciate more big wins like the ones over Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming, Eddie MacKenzie of Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan’s Brad Virtue and fewer like the extra-end squeaker against New Brunswick that they won only because skip James Grattan messed up his final shot of the game.
The undefeated streak should come as no surprise. None of the teams they have played are among the upper tier and none are expected to make the playoffs.
“When you look at the schedule, you see where you kind of have an easier stretch and then a tougher stretch,” said Gushue, who played Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario in a late Monday night game at Rexall Place arena.
Gushue and Jacobs were both 4-0 and tied with defending champ Glenn Howard of Ontario for first place heading into Monday’s late draw.
But what a difference a year can make. At the 2012 Saskatoon Brier, Gushue looked at the schedule and tried to figure the odds on how they’d fare at the start. It didn’t work.
“Last year, we had three really tough games to start and we thought the worst case would be one (win) and two (losses) and we started off oh-and-three and you just felt like you had a defeated feeling after that,” Gushue recalled.
That planning was scrapped. Rather than trying to figure out which games they might lose, they now think about winning one game at a time.
“This year we’re just trying to take it as we go and try and get as many wins as we can,” he added.
And that’s where the confidence factor comes in. Winning builds it and losing crushes it. And close calls — like the 7-6 win against New Brunswick — reinforce in players’ minds that when they believe they can win, somehow they will.
The entire team played horribly in the first half of the New Brunswick game, especially Gushue whose mistakes lead to giving up a pair of points in the fourth end and allowing Grattan to steal in single in the fifth.
Their bodies visibly sagged on the ice. They angrily swung their brooms after missing shots.
“It was probably a game we didn’t deserve to win but you need that if you’re going win this and be competitive in it,” a relieved Gushue said.
“We had a really good meeting after the fifth end. You’ve got to keep plugging away. It would have been real easy after I missed that shot in five for us to fold and say it’s not our night. But we didn’t do that and the last five ends were much better and we pulled it out.”
So the positive impact of the New Brunswick game is that despite the struggles, they managed to get their confidence back. They will need it for the remainder of the 11-game round robin tournament where the top four teams will advance to playoffs.
“You’ve got to have these tough games because they are only going to get tougher as we go,” Gushue said.
And they can’t count on the likes of Howard of Ontario and Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton to miss the last shot.