Newfoundland and Labrador’s skip has had them before, but on Saturday, as he readied himself for the opening draw of the 2017 Tim Horton Brier Canadian men’s curling championship at Mile One Centre in St. John’s, they were as big as crows.
“I was very nervous, to the point where I was shaking. It was hard to control,” he said of the first end of what would an 8-6 win over Alberta.
The emotion is understandable. After all, he and teammates Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker were curling at home in front of a boisterous, supportive, packed house in the very first Brier draw to be played in Newfoundland in 45 years.
And the game came on the heels of an opening ceremony that, for Gushue and Nichols, had the added bonus of an on-ice reunion with Russ Howard, Jamie Korab and Mike Adam, their teammates from the gold medal-winning Canadian entry at the 2006 Olympics, and the recognition of Jack MacDuff’s 1976 rink, Newfoundland’s only Brier winner to date.
For Gushue — normally as cool as the ice he plays on — to admit to shaking legs and hands tells you something of the electricity that was coursing through Mile One.
There was no shocking loss, however.
After Alberta scored one in the first end, Gushue countered with two in the second, when, according to the Newfoundland skip, he “started to settle down and it felt like curling again.”
He sent final shot through a port for a takeout to secure his two — and his team never was behind again.
Not that Newfoundland sailed to a victory
Alberta skip Brendan Bottcher may be in his first Brier, but no curling team coming out of that prairie province — especially one coached by Kevin Martin — will be a pushover, and it wasn’t on Saturday.
The game was actually tied at 5-5 after Bottcher came through with a couple of points in the seventh. Although Gushue responded with three in the eighth, an end highlighted by a double raise takeout by the Newfoundland skip on his second-last shot, he suggested it was an things could have gone the other way.
“See how I threw it? Oh man, that was a terrible throw,” he said of his first shot in the end .“That was really throwing 100 rocks a day for 20 years, figuring out how to get that back on line.”
Had that correction not happened, Gushue figured his Alberta opponent would have had a 90 percent chance of stealing a point “and when you steal in the eighth to go up one, the odds of winning are heavily in his favour.
“So that was a huge shot, probably game winner. It wasn’t my best rock of the day, but certainly the best result.”
Eleven of the 12 Brier entrants played just a single game Saturday. The exception was Nova Scotia, skipped by Jamie Murphy, which defeated the Yukon 9-6 in the pre-qualifying round play-in final to get elevated to the main draw.
The Murphy rink was back on the ice Saturday night and defeated former Brier champion Glen Howard on Ontario 6-5 in what would have to be rated as the only real upset of the day.
Other Day 1 winners were defending champion Kevin Koe and Team Canada, who earned a 7-5 decision against Jean Michel Menard and Quebec; former Brier and Olympic champion Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario, who beat John Morris and British Columbia 9-7 in a marquee matchup; Mike Kennedy and New Brunswick, 6-5 winners over Jamie Koe and the Northwest Territories 6-5; and Mike McEwen of Manitoba, who edged Adam Casey and Saskatchewan 6-5 in an all-western affair.
The Manitoba-Saskatchewan game was played on a sheet next to Newfoundland-Alberta, and McEwen couldn’t help but take notice of how responsive the 6,000-plus fans were to every accomplishment by Gushue and Co.
“Geez, it was so loud. I thought it was the final today," said McEwen, who will provide the opposition for Gushue in the Sunday morning (10 a.m.) draw.
“It was deafening. So, there were a couple of times when my guys said, 'Hey, let’s hold on here because if Brad make his shot, they're gonna go nuts.’ And he did, and you couldn't hear anything.
“That could be important, especially if you're communicating line and sweeping, and Newfoundland makes a great shot. You might make a mistake and not hear each other.”
It may be a case of being forewarned as being forearmed, but McEwen also figures it might be easier taking on Newfoundland face-to-face because at least “you know when the applause is coming.”
For his part, Gushue — who also takes on New Brunswick in the Sunday-night (8 o’clock) draw — always works hard at focusing on the game, something he admits will need extra effort this week. But he couldn’t totally ignore what was happening around him at Mile One during the opener.
“It was so much fun to be out there,” he said. "I was trying to stay in the moment, but there were certainly times I let myself go and I looked up in the stands and saw all the flags and (heard) all the cheering.
“It’s going to be a fun week for sure.”