The Brad Gushue curling team has been red-hot this fall, but enter the Roar of the Rings Olympic Curling Trials on a losing note, having gone 3-2 and bumped from the quarter-finals at the Boost National, a Grand Slam event staged in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. last month.
A 5-2 loss to John Morris in round-robin play snapped a consecutive win streak of 23 straight games – 17 in Grand Slam competition – and the 4-3 playoff loss to Mike McEwen denied Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker a third straight Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title.
So, inquiring minds want to know, can we read anything into this, entering the biggest event of the curling season coming off a loss … never mind the team is 32-5 this season.
“Well, just because we had a couple of losses, you can’t read anything into that,” said Nichols, who was nabbed by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports – which conducts drug testing on Canadian athletes – for a random test Friday (last Monday, a CCES official flew to St. John's for a surprise visit and a test of Gushue).
“We could have scattered a few losses through the middle of the run and maybe no one would have said anything.
“But we had some good practices since then, some good discussions, realizing we still had some stuff to work on, and we’ve done that the past few weeks.
“I think we’re ready.”
Team Gushue open the Trials 8:30 Saturday night against John Epping.
At stake is a berth in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic Games.
Gushue and Co. enter the Trials as the reigning Brier and world champions. They won the Brier with a last-shot victory over Kevin Koe at Mile One Centre, and then steamrolled the field at the world championship in Edmonton, going 13-0.
That’s the best Nichols has seen this team play. Are they at that point now?
“Man, it’s close,” he said. “Our play at the worlds was unbelievable. We haven’t been as solid through this season, but we’ve been finding ways to win.
“We were just firing on all cylinders at the worlds. We probably haven’t been playing as good in the fall, but we’re close. Hopefully that’s a sign that we can still be better.”