This time last year, Greg Smith was loudly cheering on Brad Gushue and his team as they worked their way towards a Brier title and Canadian men’s curling championship at Mile One Centre.
But today, Smith will be hoping Gushue goes down to defeat … at least in one particular Brier game.
Smith and his St. John’s rink representing Newfoundland and Labrador at this year’s national event in Regina, are teetering on the edge of elimination after giving up six stolen points over back-to-back ends and losing a 12-6 to British Columbia in their only game Tuesday.
That leaves the Newfoundland team, which also includes fellow Brier rookies Matthew Hunt, Andrew Taylor and Ian Withycombe, with a 1-4 record heading into today, the last day of preliminary-round play.
Smith and Co. will need a lot of things to fall in place with other teams in order to make it to the championship round where the 16-entry Brier field — now split into two pools — gets thinned to eight rinks. But nothing that transpires will matter if Smith and Newfoundland don’t win both their games today, a morning matchup with Mike McEwen’s wild card team (4-1) and a night-time meeting against Gushue and defending champion Team Canada, which tops Pool A with a perfect 5-0 record.
“I’ve never played Gushue in my life. I never had a chance to play him in any ‘spiels in town and I never was in a Tankard (provincial men’s championship) before. We know all the boys (on Gushue’s team), but I’ve never actually played them any time.”
Gushue and teammates Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker defeated Nova Scotia 9-5 Tuesday to guarantee themselves a place in the championship pool. But that doesn’t mean the defending champions, who play Alberta (4-1) this morning, will be taking it easier today. That’s because team’s preliminary-round records will carry over to the championship pool.
In other words, every game counts.
This morning’s matchup will make for a bit of history. It’s the not only first time two Newfoundland-based rinks have squared off at the Brier, but it is also the first time Smith will have taken on Gushue, even though they both play out of St. John’s.
“I’ve never played Gushue in my life,” said the 21-year-old Smith, who is only a year removed from the junior ranks.
“I never had a chance to play him in any ‘spiels in town and I never was in a Tankard (provincial men’s championship) before. We know all the boys (on Gushue’s team), but I’ve never actually played them any time.”
Because they had earned a direct berth to this Brier as defending champ, Gushue and his rink didn’t take part in this year’s Tankard, won by Smith. And while Smith competed in the local SuperLeague over the winter, the Gushue rink was playing in mainland events on the World Curling Tour.
As you might expect, Smith is a big fan of Gushue. A decade ago, Gushue gave an 11-year-old Smith his broom after a Grand Slam event in St. John’s. And last year, Smith was at the Brier Patch at the St. John’s Convention Centre, cheering on the Gushue rink after they won the national men’s crown; he was among those who got to touch the Brier Tankard after Gushue passed the trophy to the crowd.
But today, Smith knows he can’t bring any awe to the ice.
“They are (a team) that has grown the game an amazing amount, in Newfoundland, in the country and around the world, and they are curling icons and curling idols,” said Smith.
“But we have to let that go. We have to look at it as four guys who curl taking on four other guys who curl.
:We’ll be throwing the same number of rocks. It’s just that they have a tonne more accolades than we do.”
And experience, of course.
Before this year, Gushue had skipped every one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Brier representatives since 2003, except for 2006 when he and Nichols were winning Olympic gold in Italy.
That had Smith thinking about Gushue as a Brier rookie in 2003 as he prepares to take on Gushue, the Brier veteran of 2018.
“I have to remind myself that he was exactly in my shoes 15 years ago,” said Smith.