They are the two-time defending Canadian men’s curling champions and are ranked second on the planet behind only the team that team defeated them in the 2018 world championship.
But you still get the sense Brad Gushue and his St. John’s rinkmates are looking to rejuvenate their game as they take to the ice for the Canada Cup, beginning today in Estevan, Sask.
“Hit and miss” is how Gushue described his team’s season to date when talking to discoverestevan.com Tuesday during an autograph/meet-the-fans event in Estevan.
The hits came early, with a win in their first event, the Princess Auto Elite 10, a Grand Slam event, and a runner-up finish in the China Open, an event to promote curling for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing. And there was also a second-place showing at their most recent competition, the Stu Sells 1824 Classic in Halifax. But in between, the team didn’t get past the quarter-final rounds of two other Grand Slam events, the Masters and the Tour Challenge.
But with more than two weeks between competitions in Halifax and Estevan, the team was provided the chance for practice time that was tougher to come by earlier in their schedule. Gushue said he’s anxious to see how that shows up on the ice this week in Estevan, where he’s looking for his first-ever Canada Cup win. He also would like a good springboard into the next Grand Slam event, the Boost National, which can be seen as a hometown event for Gushue, since its being held in Conception Bay South Dec. 11-16.
Overall, Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker have a 24-7 record this season, and are second to defending world men’s champion Niklas Edin of Sweden on the World Curling Tour’s points list and just behind Calgary Kevin Koe on the WCT money list.
Gushue and Co. have won nearly $79,000 in prize money so far this fall, while Koe has taken home $84,648.
Edin isn’t in Estevan this week; this is an all-Canadian event, with 15 teams entered, seven on the men’s side and eight in the women’s division.
Koe is also part of the roster of men’s competitors, along with Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., Regina’s Matt Dunstone, Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher, Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers and Toronto’s John Epping.
Single round-robin play begins today — Gushue faces Dunstone this morning and Jacobs this afternoon — leading to semifinals Saturday and Sunday finals.
All games will be broadcast by TSN.
At stake is a $140,000 total prize purse and a guaranteed berth into the Pre-Trials ahead of the 2021 Olympic Trials.
There was no Canada Cup last season to allow for the 2017 Olympics Trials and the format in Estevan is similar to that used in the Trials, with the team owning the top preliminary-round record booking a berth straight into Sunday’s final. The second- and third-place teams from the round robin meet in the semifinal.
Another similarity with the trials will be in the lineup of competing players. Fifteen of the skips at last year’s trials are at this Canada Cup, although many of their teams have different looks after considerable off-season shuffling in advance of a new Olympic quadrennial.
Gushue’s rink isn’t one of them. He and his teammates are back for a fifth straight season, but the changed teams include the foursome for Carruthers, who won the last Canada Cup in 2016. He’s still calling the shots, but is now throwing third stones, with former Manitoba rival Mike McEwen on last rocks.
Carruthers actually defeated Team Gushue in that 2016 final, but it was Nichols who guided the St. John’s rink at that Canada Cup. Gushue wasn’t playing then as he dealt with a hip injury.