With the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics officially in the books, and close to three months to get over his team’s shortcoming at the Olympic Trials, Brad Gushue is poised to make a run at a second straight Tim Hortons Brier Canadian men’s curling championship starting this weekend.
The 2018 Regina, Sask. Brier will be a different one for Gushue and his team which consists of long-time third Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker, and not because of the expanded 16-team, two-pool format making its Brier debut.
For the first time, Gushue and Co. will be curling as Team Canada, following their thrilling win last spring in St. John’s, and subsequent unbeaten run at the world championship in Edmonton.
The foursome from St. John’s will still be wearing red and white at the Brier, only this time there will be a maple leaf on their back instead of the familiar NL.
Greg Smith and his team from the Re/Max Centre in St. John’s will represent Newfoundland and Labrador in Regina.
It was a crushing loss for Team Gushue at the Trials in Ottawa in early December, losing to Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen in the semifinals and dashing any hopes of a return — for Gushue and Nichols, at least — to the Winter Olympics.
But as they say, time heals all wounds, and Gushue is anxious for a Brier return.
“I think if there’s one thing I’ve gained over the years, it’s pretty good perspective,” he said. “The Olympic Trials is one event, one week and you can be the best team in the world and go in there and win, or be the best team in the world and go in there and lose.
“I’ve been on both sides of it. We had no business winning in 2005, but we got hot for a week and went on to win Olympic gold (in Torino, Italy, the first Canadian men’s curling team to win the gold medals).
“And then this time, we entered as the No. 1 team in the world and we played okay, but it didn’t turn out in our favour.
“Does that mean it was a failure? No, I don’t think so. It was disappointing, but if we go on and win the Brier and the worlds, it would be hard to talk to any person and have them not say that this season was a success.”
Following the Trials, Team Gushue enjoyed a couple of weeks off leading up to Christmas, but they were all back in the saddle in the New Year for the Olympic Mixed Doubles Trials in Portage La Prairie, Man. (Gushue and Val Sweeting lost in the final to John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes, who would go on to win Olympic gold). Four days after the Mixed Trials, it was on to the Continental Cup in London, Ont. followed right after that by the Canadian Open Grand Slam event in Camrose, Alta.
After the Camrose event, the team took a lengthy stretch of two-and-half weeks away from the game where they didn’t throw a rock.
“We needed to get away from curling, press the refresh button and get ready for the Brier,” he said. “I think the last thing we should have continued to do was grind until March. A couple of weeks off wasn’t going to hurt us. In fact, I think it got us a little more energized, a kind of start to a new season.”
Team Gushue won the Brier last season with a thrilling, last-shot win over Alberta’s Kevin Koe, who was wearing Team Canada’s colours at Mile One Centre (Koe, of course, won the Trials this year and represented Canada in PyeongChang where he came up short of winning a medal).
Koe is not playing in this year’s Brier.
Gushue later said it was the most pressure-packed 10 days of curling he’s experienced, which should make this year’s Brier a little more bearable.
“It’s going to be a little less stressful and you know what? It might even free us up to go out there and to really play the way we’re capable of playing,” he said.
Gushue is entered in Pool A with the winner of Friday night’s wild card game which featured McEwen vs fellow Winnipegger Jason Gunnlaugson, Smith (the all-Newfoundland matchup will be Wednesday, March 7 in the evening draw), Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher, Jamie Murphy from Nova Scotia, Sean Geall of B.C., Thomas Scoffin from the Yukon and Jamie Koe from the Northwest Territories, making his 12th Brier appearance.
Pool B consists of Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers, Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario, John Epping of Ontario, Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock, Mike Fournier of Quebec, James Grattan of New Brunswick, Eddie MacKenzie of P.E.I., and Dave St. Louis of Nunavut.
The top four teams from each pool advance to a championship pool that will determine the final four playoff teams.
The winner represents Canada in the world championship March 31-April 8 in Las Vegas.