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Throwing third is Nichols’ first choice

Mark Nichols calls a Brad Gushue stone during Draw 7 match against Saskatchewan at the Tim Hortons Brier 2017 on Monday. Nichols filled in for Gushue when the skip was nursing hip and groin issues earlier in the season but he has no plans of leaving the highly successful rink to start his own.
Mark Nichols calls a Brad Gushue stone during Draw 7 match against Saskatchewan at the Tim Hortons Brier 2017 on Monday. Nichols filled in for Gushue when the skip was nursing hip and groin issues earlier in the season but he has no plans of leaving the highly successful rink to start his own.

Mark Nichols is batting close to 1.000 as a pinch-hitter throwing skip stones, but don’t expect the ultra-talented third to move into the cleanup spot in Brad Gushue’s curling lineup anytime soon.

Nichols filled in superbly for Gushue early in the 2016-17 curling season when the latter was sidelined by a nagging hip and groin issue which threatened to put the skip on the shelf for the Tim Hortons Brier.

With Nichols throwing skip rocks, an assortment of curlers (Ontario’s Adam Spencer and Alberta’s Charley Thomas among them) joined front end Brett Gallant (second) and Geoff Walker (lead) for eight World Curling Tour events prior to Christmas.

Team Gushue reached the playoffs in all eight events, won the StuSells Toronto Tankard and finished second to Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers in the Canada Cup.

Not bad for a fill-in skip who last threw final stones 13 years ago when Nichols skipped the Newfoundland mixed team to the Canadian championship in Prince Albert, Sask.

And before that, you’d have to go all the way back to his junior days in his native Labrador City when Nichols played skip.

Despite the success, however, Nichols promises he won’t be working the phone in the off-season — aka barbeque season, in curling lingo – looking to break from Gushue and start his own team.

“Not going to happen,” he said.

Plenty of curlers have come and gone with Gushue, but he and Nichols are a staple going way back, when they won a Canadian and world junior title together, and the 2006 Olympic gold medal.

But there was a three-year stint, beginning in 2012, when Nichols moved to Winnipeg and curled third for Jeff Stoughton.

“This team is as good as you’re going to get,” Nichols said of the current Newfoundland and Labrador lineup, which was 2-1 entering Monday night’s game against Saskatchewan at the Tim Hortons Brier in St. John’s. “It’s been working for us the last two and half years. We’ve been the best team on tour for two-plus years.”

Certainly, Nichols enjoyed his stint as skip prior to Christmas, although he admitted to being, “a little shaky” as he got his feet wet in a new position.

“But otherwise, I felt really comfortable out there,” said the 37-year-old personal trainer, who will be opening an Orangetheory Fitness Centre with Gushue soon.

“It helped my game and gave me the confidence to know that I’m able to throw those last two. It definitely helped me seeing the game from the other view… rocks coming at you as opposed to going away.”

For Nichols, third is where it’s at. He enjoys the sweeping the position requires, not to mention the close interaction with the skip.

“You’re with the front end, you’re with the skip, so you really have to be a middle man between the whole team,” he said. “I really enjoy that.

“Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it (as skip), but I think my skillset is way better suited to be a third as opposed to a skip. Besides, Brad’s a great skip, and I help him when I need to. But we’re always on the same page anyway, so it’s not often we disagree on strategy.

“And if there is a disagreement, if you could say that, it’s only over a few options and then at the end of the day, it’s about who’s comfortable throwing that shot.”

And Nichols has proven it doesn’t make a difference to him whether they’re third stones, or the last couple of shots.

 

rshort@thetelegram.com

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