The Brad Gushue rink, from left, Geoff Walker, Adam Casey, Brett Gallant and Gushue begin play at the Tim Horton’s Brier Canadian men’s curling championship today in Kamloops, B.C.
©— Telegram file photo
In a field that includes nine 30-somethings and 40-year-old Eddie MacKenzie of Prince Edward Island, Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton has to be seen as the dean of skips entered in the 2014 Tim Hortons Brier Canadian men’s curling championship, which begins today in Kamloops, B.C.
After all, the 50-year-old Stoughton, a two-time world and three-time Canadian men’s champion, first competed in the Brier in 1991 when most of his fellow skips were still involved in schoolboy play.
But if you measure a skip’s seniority in Kamloops this week by the number of Briers on a résumé, then Stoughton is equalled by one his youngest opponents.
Like Stoughton, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Brad Gushue has skipped teams at 11 Briers. (New Brunswick’s James Grattan is also competing for an 11th time, but Grattan’s Brier work hasn’t always been as a skip).
The difference is that the 33-year-old Gushue — who among skips in Kamloops is older than only Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock, 31, and Jamie Murphy, 32, of Nova Scotia — has bunched his appearances, representing Newfoundland at every Brier since 2003, the only gap being 2006, when he and his rink were winning gold at the Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.
For only the third time since his first Brier in 2003, Gushue is guiding the exact same lineup as the year previous, and he and third Brett Gallant, second Adam Casey and lead Geoff Walker should have some carry-over confidence.
At the 2013 Brier in Edmonton, the team out of the Bally Haly Golf and Curling Club in St. John’s finished with an 8-3 round-robin record and tied for second with Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario and Manitoba, skipped by Stoughton.
In the 3-4 Page playoff game, Gushue lost to eventual champion Jacobs 6-5 in an extra end. The Newfoundland team then dropped another extra-end decision, falling 7-6 to Glenn Howard of Ontario in the bronze-medal game.
Outside of the 2007 event, when he was runner-up to Alberta’s Kevin Martin, it was Gushue’s best showing at a Brier.
The Gushue rink owns a 47-18 win-loss record this curling season and has had a solid season on the World Curling Tour (WCT), winning two events (the Baden Masters in Switzerland and Gatineau, Que,.Challenge) and finishing as runner-up in the Canadian Open, losing 4-3 to Alberta’s Kevin Koe in the final.
Gushue sits fifth on the WCT money list, with almost $50,000 in winnings, and is seventh in WCT Merit of Order points, his being the only team based east of Ontario in the top 19.
Jacobs is the WCT points leader while Glenn Howard and Martin are 1-2 in prize money, but none of the three are in Kamloops this week. Jacobs didn’t participate in the Northern Ontario playdowns — he was otherwise occupied winning Olympic gold in Sochi, Russia; Martin lost to Kevin Koe in the Alberta final; and Howard had his eight-year run of Brier appearances ended by an upset loss to Greg Balsdon in the Ontario championship.
But that doesn’t mean Kamloops will be any easier for the likes of Gushue. Other entries include former Brier champs Koe (2010) and Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard (2006), along with British Columbia’s John Morris, who until recently had been living and curling in Alberta, winning two Briers and a 2010 Olympic gold medal as a third for Martin.
The field is rounded out by Saskatchewan’s Laycock, Northern Ontario’s Jeff Currie, Nova Scotia’s Murphy, New Brunswick’s Grattan, P.E.I.’s MacKenzie the Northwest Territories/Yukon’s Jamie Koe, the brother of Kevin Koe.
And of course there is Stoughton, who faces Gushue in today’s second draw. The Winnipeg curler should have happy memories of Kamloops, having won the first of his three Brier titles there in 1996, and who is looking join Martin, Randy Ferbey and Ernie Richardson as the only curlers to have skipped four Brier champions.
Among Stoughton’s team members is Labrador City native Mark Nichols, who had been Gushue’s third for a decade, After a one year-hiatus from the game, Nichols moved to Manitoba in 2012 and joined Stoughton. Last year, the 34-year-old Nichols threw lead rocks, but has now moved to second.
Nichols was also part of Gushue’s Olympic championship rink, and the coming week should see some sort of reunion of that 2006 team. Jamie Korab, who threw lead stones in Torino, is the spare for Gushue, while Russ Howard, who was the second for Gushue at the Winter Games, is a commentator on TSN. Only Mike Adam, the fifth with the Olympic winners, will be missing.
Play in the Brier — the 85th edition of the Canadian men’s curling championship — begins 6 p.m (Newfoundland time) today. Before taking on Stoughton at 11 p.m. (NT), Gushue will open his schedule with a first-round game against Nova Scotia’s Murphy.
On Sunday, Newfoundland will square off with Ontario and Alberta.
All 12 draws, plus playoff games, will be carried live on TSN.
More at stake in Kamloops
The 12 teams at the 2014 Brier in Kamloops this week will play in a single round-robin leading to the Page playoff round, which sees the top two teams meeting in the 1-2 game. The winner advances to the Sunday, March 9 final, while the loser goes to the semifinal, held the night before.
The third- and fourth-place teams meet in the Page 3-4 game, with the winner moving on to the semifinal.The loser plays in the March 9 bronze-medal game against the semifinal loser.
That format has been used at Briers for the last number of years, but there have been other significant changes.
For the first time in Brier history, the winner will become Team Canada (as has happened at national women’s championships since 1986) and will return to defend its title at the 2015 event in Calgary.
In 2015, the champs will be joined in the 12-team main round-robin by the top 10 provinces and territories based on total number of Brier round-robin wins in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
That will leave one berth, which will be filled through a separate competition. The three teams with the fewest combined wins in the 2012. 2013 and 2014 Briers will be assigned to a pre-event qualifying tournament. At that time, those three teams will play off, along with Nunavut (which will be eligible to compete in the Brier for the first time in 2015), for the 12th and final berth in the 2015 field.
Team Canada, as defending champion, and Alberta, as the hosts in 2015, are exempt from the play-in tournament.
The two-year win totals coming into the 2014 Brier are: Ontario (20), Manitoba (16), Alberta (15, exempt), Newfoundland/Labrador (13), Northern Ontario (13), Northwest Territories (12) Quebec (10), New Brunswick (10), Saskatchewan (8), Nova Scotia (5), P.E.I. (5) British Columbia (5), and the Yukon (0).
In addition to representing Canada at the 2014 world men’s championship in Beijing, China (March 29-April 6), the winning team will qualify for the 2014 Canada Cup of Curling, Dec. 3-7 in Camrose, Alta.
Teams that make the playoffs will earn a share of $130,000 in cresting television exposure value: $40,000 each to the winner and runner-up, $30,000 to the bronze-medal team and $20,000 to fourth.