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Steady as she goes: Brad Gushue’s stable foursome ready to hit the ice

Members of Team Canada (from left), Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker acknowledge the fans in the stands after winning the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier Sunday in Regina. Gushue and his teammates on the St. John’s rink say they will remain together for another four years in order to make another run at an Olympic berth. — Canadian Press photo/Andrew Vaughan
In this file photo, the members of Team Canada (from left), Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker acknowledge the fans in the stands after winning the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier Sunday in Regina. When the Gushue rink plays its first game tonight at the Elite 10 Grand Slam event in Chatham, Ont., it will mark the start of the foursome’s fifth season together. — Canadian Press file photo/Andrew Vaughan

The Elite 10 doesn't just mark the start to a new season for reigning Canadian men’s champions, but also the beginning of a run towards 2022 Olympics

With files from The Canadian Press

There was a time when curling rinks skipped by Brad Gushue were constantly changing.

Between 2003 — when Gushue won his first Tankard as Newfoundland and Labrador men’s champion — and 2014, his teams featured nine different lineups, with none lasting more than two years.

But the only thing that’s changed for Gushue in recent years is that his St. John’s-based rink has become model of stability.

As Gushue prepares for his first event of the 2018-19 curling season, he will do so with a team that is entering its fifth year together … and plans to remain intact for four more. And that makes the Gushue rink, which includes third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker a bit of an anomaly at the Princess Auto Elite 10, a Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling which begins in Chatham, Ont., tonight,

Other than Gushue’s two-time defending Canadian men’s champions and the team skipped by 2014 Olympic champion Brad Jacobs of Thunder Bay, Ont.,  there's hardly a big-name foursome that has remained fully intact for the new season.

Movement between teams usually intensifies after a Winter Olympics as curlers try to form teams that can win the next trials and go for Olympic gold.

That certainly was the case year. While the Gushue and Jacobs rinks intend to stay together for the next quadrennial, the shuffling among other teams was unprecedented.

Gushue and Co. face Winnipeg’s Jason Gunnlaugson in tonight’s opening draw of the Elite 10. It makes for a unusually late start to the season for the St. John’s rink, which began its 2017-18 schedule in mid-August.

But this year, Gushue and his teammates have deliberately held back on hitting the start switch, skipping the Basel Masters in Switzerland and the World Curling Tour's Shorty Jenkins Classic, in Cornwall, Ont., two events that had been fixtures on their schedule.

“But we’re still going to be busy, and that’s part of the reason (for the late start),” said Gushue recently. “For example, we’re going to be travelling to China (next month), Sweden and Korea.

“The other thing is that events are so much longer these days. When I started, they took two or three days. Now, they’re five or six days, a week, sometimes even 10 days.

“So we have a schedule that we believe is best in helping us begin to prepare for 2022 (when the next Winter Olympics will be held in Beijing).”

The men's field in Chatham this week also includes teams skipped by Kevin Koe, John Epping, Russ Howard, Reid Carruthers, as well as Sweden's Niklas Edin and Scotland's Bruce Mouat and Ross Paterson.

Many of those rinks have undergone significant change.

For example, instead of battling to oust each other from Manitoba playdowns, Mike McEwen and Carruthers have joined forces, with Carruthers calling the shots and McEwen throwing fourth stones.

Koe recently won the first men's leg of the World Cup of Curling with former McEwen vice B.J. Neufeld at third and new second Colton Flasch.

Epping got off to a quick start with vice Mathew Camm and new front end of Brent Laing and Craig Savill. They won the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., earlier this month beating both Jacobs and reigning Olympic champion John Shuster of the U.S. en route to the title.

Laing and Savill were Howard's second and lead respectively for a decade and won a pair of Canadian and world titles during that span.

Laing went onto play for other teams, including Koe's Olympic squad. Savill has returned to competitive curling after receiving treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Without an Olympic Games, trials or pre-trials on the curling calendar this winter, the premiere events for 2018-19 will be the seven Grand Slams that offer a total of $2.1 million in prize money for men's and women's teams, as well as December's $140,000 Canada Cup of Curling in Estevan, Sask.

One of the other Grand Slam events is the Boost National, to be held Dec. 11-16 in Conception Bay South

The Tim Hortons Brier, the Canadian men's championship, will be March 2-10 in Brandon, Man. Lethbridge, Alta., is the host city of the 2019 men's world curling championship March 30 to April 7.

Edin is defending world champion, having defeated Gushue in the 2018 men’s final.

Twitter: @telybrendan

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