YORKTON - It has been a wild ride on the curling ice for the Brad Gushue team in recent weeks, but the best could lie just ahead as they ready to represent Canada at the LGT World Men’s Curling Championships in Las Vegas.
The team of third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker and skip Gushue represented Canada at the recent Olympics, and struggled at the event, yet still brought home the bronze.
“I think everybody out there knows we are better than we were at the Olympics,” said Gushue in a recent interview with Yorkton This Week, adding even though they didn’t play up to the level expected the bronze medals were still “something we’re very proud of.”
Gushue said it became apparent quite early at the Olympics the ice conditions were not the best for the style of game the team played, but he said the team showed “grit and determination” in taking the bronze medals.
Fast forward to the Gushue’s return to Canada and they were on their way to Tim Hortons Brier as a wild card team.
The Gushue rink were in fine form in Lethbridge, dropping only one game to defending champion team headed by Brendan Bottcher, on their way to winning the 2022 championship, but it wasn’t as easy as the record might suggest.
To start with coming out of the pressure cooker that is the Olympics there was physical and mental fatigue.
“We were really running on the energy of the crowd at one point,” said Gushue.
Then, come the playoffs third Mark Nichols was sidelined by COVID protocols, forcing the Gushue rink to play with three.
“We found a way to win with three players, that’s pretty special,” said Gushue.
Gushue said it helped his team is experienced with each able to capably play any position, but there are limitations with three players, especially when it comes to sweeping.
Gushue said at the highest levels of the sport, such as the Brier playoffs, an inch of curl can be the difference between “giving up four or stealing two,” and that is where sweeping matters most.
That the three managed to overcome the liability is rather special in retrospect.
“Looking back on it, it does seem pretty memorable what we were able to accomplish,” said Gushue.
With a trip to the world finals in their pocket, the Team Gushue had another hurdle to deal with.
Second Brett Gallant let it be known he would be leaving the foursome for another team once the current season was complete.
“We’ve known a little while. Brent notified me last week,” said Gushue, adding they had planned to hold off announcing the decision until after the world championships, but when it became public March 18, they acknowledged it was true.
“Now we can concentrate on the last three events that we play as a group of four,” he said. “. . . Hopefully we can finish off on a high note.”
Gushue said he does have his eye on a replacement player, adding there are multiple factors to consider.
To start with there has to be a certain level of ability to fit into a team that is among the world elite, but pure skills are not the only criteria.
The personality has to fit on and off the ice, because a team spends a lot of time together.
And then there is “work ethic,” said Gushue. “Are they willing to do the work to get to the level that we want to?”
But, before a new player is added, there is action in Vegas, where Gushue will again see the Swedish team headed by Niklas Edin which won the Olympic golds and although the Scottish team headed by Bruce Mouat which were the silver medalists will not be - Scotland will be represented by Kyle Waddell.
Gushue said his team and Edin have traded wins across numerous events in recent years, and he expects it to be a tight affair again.
In addition to the competition, there will be some new rules to deal with too, in particular not being able to ‘tick’ a rock off the centre line with the first five rocks of an end.
“We’re well aware of that. It’s probably to our team’s benefit,” said Gushue. “We like rocks in play.”
Of greater concern is the possible condition of the ice. Gushue said when playing in Vegas four years ago the ice was “a challenge” and added “we expect it to be a bit of a challenge again,” noting they are trying to make good curling ice when it’s 30C outside.
The LGT World Men’s Curling Championship runs April 2 – 10. Team Canada starts the round robin against the Czech Republic April 2.