Challenging the champs

Kenn Oliver
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Skip Andrew Symonds calls to his sweepers at the 2015 Travelers Curling Club Championship in Ottawa last November. The Symonds foursome are one of six local curling squads in this year’s Tankard provincial men's curling championship which gets underway Thursday afternoon at the Re/Max Centre in St. John’s.

Five local teams aiming to unseat 12-time Tankard champion Brad Gushue rink

After the Brad Gushue rink was challenged by a single team in last year’s Tankard provincial men's curling championship in Labrador City, this year’s event, which begins Thursday at the Re/Max Centre in St. John’s, will feature five teams trying to knock off the 12-time champion and punch a ticket to the Tim Hortons Brier set for Ottawa in early March.

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Gushue wins 12th Tankard title

Gushue will be looking for a 10th straight title going back to 2007.

For rinks such as Andrew Symonds’ Therapeutic Services Physiotherapy foursome, part of the Tankard’s appeal, beyond the chance to play for a Canadian title, is the opportunity to challenge Gushue.

It won’t be easy.

“It’s a chance to see how you stack up against one of the top teams in the world,” says Symonds, who won the 2015 Travelers Curling Club Championship men’s title with Mark Healy, Corey Ewart and Keith Jewer this past November, becoming the first team from this province to do so.

“Obviously, you’re only going to get better by playing better competition, so this is one of the few chances we do get to play Brad's team, so certainly everybody gets geared up.”

Head-to-head in Tankard play, Symonds has never beaten Gushue. But then, not many local teams have in recent years. Gushue heads into this year’s event riding a 34-game winning streak in provincial playdowns, his last loss coming in an extra-end affair against the Matthew Blandford team in 2010.

“They’ve reached the level they’re at right now because they’ve put in the time and effort and travel, and kudos to them for doing so.

“They’re playing the best teams in the world every week. The rest of us are playing each other, and ultimately that’s the difference.”

The remainder of the men’s field are curlers Symonds and company face regularly in SuperLeague play at the Re/Max Centre.

“We’re all very familiar with one another. We play against each other week after week and in different spiels throughout the winter, so there shouldn’t be any surprises.”

Tie-breakers and playoffs are scheduled for Saturday afternoon and evening. If only one men’s and women’s draw are scheduled for Sunday, they will be played at 1 p.m.

The Scotties Tournament of Hearts provincial women’s championship also opens Thursday, and will also be played at the Re/Max Centre.

Twitter: @telykenn

Tankard provincial men’s curling championship teams:

Adam Boland (skip), Ross Young (third), Zach Young (second), Andrew Taylor (lead)

Brad Gushue (skip), Mark Nichols (third), Brett Gallant (second), Geoff Walker (lead)

Matthew Hunt (skip), Mark Fajertag (third), Evan Kearley (second), Andrew Taylor (lead)

Rick Rowsell (skip), David Noftall (third), Craig Dowden (second), Ken Peddigrew (lead)

Andrew Symonds (skip), Mark Healy (third), Cory Ewart (second), Keith Jewer (lead)

Colin Thomas (skip), Cory Schuh (third), Chris Ford (second), Spencer Wicks (lead)

Organizations: Therapeutic Services Physiotherapy, Travelers Curling Club, Max Centre

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