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Support systems getting Team Gushue third Mark Nichols through a trying time

What should have been a week of anticipation for Team Gushue third Mark Nichols has turned into one of sorrow for him and his family as they mourn the death of his mother last weekend. The Gushue rink begins defence of its world mens curling championship Saturday in Las Vegas.
What should have been a week of anticipation for Team Gushue third Mark Nichols has turned into one of sorrow for him and his family as they mourn the death of his mother last weekend. The Gushue rink begins defence of its world men’s curling championship Saturday in Las Vegas. - Anil Mungal/Grand Slam of Curling

He's dealing with the death of his mother just a week before rink begins play at world championship

Mark Nichols is heading to the world men’s curling championship in Las Vegas this week with a heavy heart following the death of his mother Saturday.

Helen Nichols was only 63.

“Mom was not well,” Mark was saying Tuesday, a few hours before he and the other curlers on the Brad Gushue foursome left for Vegas to defend their world championship crown starting Saturday.

“It’s life, I suppose. It throws stuff at you. It’s been a tough week, but I have a great support system at home, and with these guys.”

Helen Nichols was a curler herself, throwing second stones on Sue Anne Bartlett’s 1992 team that curled in the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in P.E.I.

In addition to helping introduce Mark to the game back in his home town of Labrador City, Helen Nichols also led the way for his sister, Shelley, a three-time provincial women’s champion, and three-time all-Newfoundland and Labrador junior champ.

“Both her and Dad,” Mark said. “They both got us involved in curling. I remember being on the sheet when I was very, very young, trying to throw rocks. She also coached me up to a certain age.”

“It’s life, I suppose. It throws stuff at you. It’s been a tough week, but I have a great support system at home, and with these guys.”

Mark Nichols

Nichols and Gushue, along with the front end tandem of Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker, punched their ticket to Vegas after winning a second straight Tim Hortons Brier with a 6-4 decision over Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher in the final.

Representing Team Canada, the team from both the Bally Haly Curling Club and the Re/Max Centre went 12-1 in Regina, Sask., with Gushue, Nichols and Gallant all earning first-team all-star selections. Walker was named to the second all-star team.

The four ran the table at the worlds last year in Edmonton – after they won their first Brier in St. John’s – going 13-0.

The Canadians will see some familiar faces in Vegas on the Orleans Arena ice – former home to the ECHL’s Las Vegas Wranglers — most notably Sweden’s Niklas Edin, whom they beat 4-2 in the final last year.

Edin won the silver medal at the recent PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

But Switzerland’s Peter de Cruz and John Shuster of the U.S. won’t be in Vegas. De Cruz was the bronze medallist in South Korea and Shuster the surprise gold medallist. Both were 8-3 at the worlds last spring.

A number of international curling federations have elected to send other teams besides their Olympic rinks to this year’s worlds. Also, a number of national championships overlapped with the Olympics, which didn’t permit Olympians, like Canadian Kevin Koe, to participate in both events.

It’s been a busy month of March for Team Gushue. They won the Brier on the 11th, and then went straight to Winnipeg for the Princess Auto Elite 10 — a Grand Slam event where they lost in the final to Mike McEwen — which clewed up on the 19th.

“Preparation for worlds is not ideal,” Gushue said, “but it’s the same as what it was last year … right to the Elite 10 and then to Edmonton. We only had nine days off this month before Vegas.

“It’s a little rushed,” he continued. “We wanted to make sure we rested after the Brier, but at the same time, you also want to see that you’re working towards the worlds. It’s a fine balance you have to strike.

“But we erred on the side of rest. Practising now is like cramming for an exam.

“We’ve done all the work. Really, we wanted to make sure we were rested so fatigue won’t be an issue.”

Canada opens the world championship Saturday with two games, against Russia and Scotland. Sunday, Gushue and Co. take on the Swiss. The bonspiel continues all week with semifinals Saturday, April 7 and the bronze- and gold-medal games on Sunday, April 8.

robin.short@thetelegram.com

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