In fact, of the nine teams — including Gushue’s — which have already qualified for this year’s Brier, seven participated in the 2016 Canadian men’s curling championship in Ottawa.
So far, returning last year are teams skipped by defending champion Kevin Koe of Calgary (Team Canada); former Brier winners Jean-Michel Menard (Quebec) and Glenn Howard (Ontario); and Gushue, Jamie Murphy (Nova Scotia) and Jamie Koe (Northwest Territories). As well, Adam Casey, who represented Prince Edward Island at the 2016 Brier, is back, this time as the skip of the Saskatchewan champions.
What’s more, each of these skips has multiple Brier appearances.
Howard has seniority in the group. Then again, he has seniority over everyone else in the event’s history.
The 54-year-old’s first Brier appearance was more than three decades ago (1986); this will be the 17th Brier for the four-time champion — he won a couple as third for his brother Russ (1987 and 1983) and two more (2007 and 2012) as skip; and he has played in more Brier games (206) than anyone else.
By the way, in second place on the Brier games-played list is Russ Howard (174), with Gushue (160) sitting third. Mark Nichols, Gushue’s third, is fifth, with 147 games, most of them representing Newfoundland, but also including a couple of dozen with Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton in 2013 and 2014.
While Gushue will be second in Brier experience, Menard might be able to claim technical seniority over the Newfoundlander since he was the spare for Francois Roberge’s rink at the 2002 Brier, the year before Gushue made his national men’s championship debut. But while this marks the eighth time that 2008 Brier champ Menard has skipped in the event, this will be Gushue’s 14th appearance.
For three-time Canadian champion Kevin Koe, this will be a sixth Brier, while his brother Jamie will be representing the Territories for a seventh straight year and eighth overall.
Casey will be playing in his sixth consecutive Brier, and for a third different province. He won three Newfoundland and Labrador Tankards (2012-2014) as Gushue’s second and skipped the Prince Edward Island champions in 2015 and 2016 before heading to Saskatchewan.
Eddie Mackenzie of P.E.I. and Murphy of Nova Scotia each have won three provincial titles, although they are not assured of berths in the main draw. Their teams, along with the Yukon (Craig Kochan) and Nunavut (Jim Nix), will participate in the pre-Brier qualifying tournament March 2-4 at Mile One to determine which of the four will advance to join the 11 other main-draw entries.
While the Gushue rink may know all these skips and most of their teams from previous Briers, that often represents the only times they have met head-to-head.
During the full curling season, the Gushue rink comes up regularly against Kevin Koe in top-tier World Curling Tour and Grand Slam events, while Glenn Howard has participated in four such competitions this year. However the rest of the teams who have places in this year’s Brier compete mostly in regional WCT events, if at all.
That will probably change this week, as the Brier entries from the Prairie powerhouses of Alberta and Manitoba are decided, along with those in Northern Ontario and New Brunswick.