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Provincial men's curling championship: This is an extra-special Tankard

Skip Brad Gushue watches as Mark Nichols (left) and Brett Gallant (right) sweep a rock thrown by Geoff Walker during round-robin play in the 2016 Tankard provincial men’s curling championship at the Re/Max Centre in St. John’s. Gushue will be after an 11th straight provincial title when play begins in the 2017 Tankard
Skip Brad Gushue watches as Mark Nichols (left) and Brett Gallant (right) sweep a rock thrown by Geoff Walker during round-robin play in the 2016 Tankard provincial men’s curling championship at the Re/Max Centre in St. John’s. Gushue will be after an 11th straight provincial title when play begins in the 2017 Tankard

Brad Gushue won’t admit there’s any extra pressure on his team entering the provincial men’s curling championship starting Thursday in St. John’s, but let’s be honest: this year’s Tankard is taking on a bit of extra special meaning this year.

For those who perhaps have been comatose for the past 12 months, St. John’s is playing host to the Tim Hortons Brier, among the largest and most storied sports events in the country, March 4-12 at Mile One Centre.
And the winner of this year’s provincial championship will be the host team at the Brier.
Gushue will be looking for his 11th straight Tankard championship, and 14th in the past 15 years. Perhaps the only reason it’s not 15 in a row is because the streak was interrupted in 2006 when he was in Torino, Italy winning Olympic gold.
You think Gushue isn’t expected to win again this year? His photo and those of his teammates are used in all the Brier promotional material that’s floating around.
The top team on the World Curling Tour last year and again this season, it might see as if all Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker have to do is show up at Bally Haly Golf and Curling Club this week, throw and sweep a few rocks, collect their banner and get ready for the Brier.
Not so fast, says Gushue.
“We’re very focused on the task at hand,” he said. “We’re trying not to think about the Brier, instead thinking about the job that’s ahead of us.”
Only four other teams are competing in the Tankard — those skipped by Paul Harvey, Colin Thomas, Adam Boland and Trent Skanes, all from the ReMax Centre/St. John’s Curling Club.
Gushue is curling out of Bally Haly this season.
The Tankard opens 2:30 Thursday and winds up Saturday.
Gushue and Co. enter provincial play on a winning note, having won the Meridian Canadian Open Grand Slam event in North Battleford, Sask.
It was only the second event Gushue curled in this season after missing the first eight stops on the World Curling Tour because of an injury.
“I was pain-free, but not exactly discomfort-free,” he said of playing in the Open, “but I’ve improved even since then. I’m pretty close to feeling 100 per cent. I know I can play at a high level.”
Curling is very much a game of touch, and Gushue says his finesse game is right where it needs to be, although he acknowledges his power game is not.
“I’m very confident I can put a draw where I want it to be,” he said.
Gushue posted a 5-0 record in the Tankard round robin last season before dispatching Thomas in the playoff final.
The most telling stat, however, for Gushue and his teams is that they have not lost in 40 consecutive Tankard matches.


Tankard teams
(Skip, third, second, lead)

• Adam Boland, Stephen Trickett, Zach Young, Evan Kearley
• Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker
• Paul Harvey, Steve Bragg, Andrew Manuel, Mike Day
• Trent Skanes, Nick Lane, Jeff Rose, Mike Mosher
• Colin Thomas, Cory Schuh, Chris Ford, Spencer Wicks

rshort@thetelegram.com

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