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He’s headed to his 17th Brier after his team defeated Skanes in a low-scoring provincial men's curling final
There was a time, growing up in Mount Pearl and before he committed fully to curling, when Brad Gushue was a pretty good baseball player.
And when you check out he linescore of Sunday’s 2020 Tankard Newfoundland and Labrador men’s curling championship at the Re/Max Centre in St. John's, and temporarily consider ends as innings, it looks similar to what would result from a solid pitching and fielding performance on the diamond.
Gushue and teammates Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker played stellar defence as they came away with a 3-1 win over another St. John's-based rink, skipped by Trent Skanes, capping off a solid week for the 2017 world and two-time (2017, 2018) Canadian champions.
They went 9-0, outscoring the opposition 68-19 in the process. And because the score was lopsided in many of their games, leading their opponents to concede early, they played only 66 of a possible 90 ends.
An exception was Sunday’s championship, which was still in doubt entering the final end, when Gushue led 2-1 and held last-rock advantage.
But he didn’t hold many worries.
“We knew the style of game we decided to play was going to be defensive because the ice was a little straighter than what we were used to and I think we executed that plan very well,” said Gushue, who has won 15 Tankards since 2003.
“A game like today, being one up with (the hammer), sometimes they can go the wrong way if you’re not careful. But that was a solid a game for us and to be quite honest, even though the score was closest of all our games, I thought this was one of our best games, if not the best game, for us all week.
“We knew we had to be good and we were.”
By going 8-0 in preliminary play, Gushue and Co, went straight to Sunday afternoon final.
(It also allowed Gushue to check out his daughter Hayley as she added to the family championship haul; the 12-year old and St. Peter's Python Grade 7 volleyball teammates won the Cowan Heights Invitational on Saturday.)
Skanes, with a rink that also includes Cory Schuh, Spencer Wicks and Mike Day, had been second in the round-robin portion of the Tankard with a 6-2 record and got a berth in Sunday morning’s semifinal. But they had to wait while third place — and the other semifinalist — was decided.
Three St. John’s teams finished 5-3 — defending Tankard champion Andrew Symonds, 2018 champ Greg Smith and Colin Thomas (all but one of the nine Tankard entries were listed as being out of the Re/Max Centre).
That three-way tie led to a couple of tiebreakers Saturday afternoon and evening, with Thomas defeating Smith 6-5, then Symonds coming away with a 6-3 victory over Thomas to advance to face Skanes.
In the semifinal, Skanes edged Symonds 5-4, scoring a single point in the 10th end, earning him as his teammates the right to play David to Gushue’s Goliath.
But they didn’t have enough rocks left for the slingshot.
After blanking the first end, Gushue took the lead with a single point in the second, but it was a steal in the fourth to make it 2-0 that really established the tone. Skanes got back a point in the fifth, but Gushue fashioned blanks for the next four ends before sealing the deal in the 10th.
“it was one of those games where ice conditions weren’t allowing us to get many rocks in play, but we were comfortable playing with the lead, even if it wasn’t a big lead,” said Gushue, who has won every Tankard he’s entered.
The only gaps came in 2006 when he and Nichols were winning Olympic gold in Italy, and 2018 and 2019, when the current four bypassed the provincial playdowns as they had a berth in the Brier as Team Canada.
“We’ve been playing good all year. We just haven’t got to the point of being great, but we were pretty darn close to that this weekend.”
And now they’re going back to the Brier as Newfoundland and Labrador champions and as a team which gained much confidence with its Tankard performance.
“To be honest, the way we played this week, I would have put us up against anybody in the world,” said Gushue. “Especially Geoff. He played as well as I’ve seen him play in probably the last two years. He was awesome.
“Once your lead plays that well, setting things up, it makes it easier for the rest of the team down the line.”
The Gushue rink still rates as one of the top men’s team on the World Curling Tour, regularly making it to the playoff round in Grand Slam events, but it hasn’t won a Slam event in almost a year-and a half.
Nevertheless, Gushue sees the team’s showing at the Re/Max Centre as “a good step forward,” especially as it prepares for the 2020 Tim Hortons Brier in Kingston, Ont., beginning Feb 29.
“We’ve been playing good all year,” he said. “We just haven’t got to the point of being great, but we were pretty darn close to that this weekend.”