Gunnlaugson isn't intimidated

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:49 AM ET

He's the young gunslinger. The fresh flavour. The ultimate underdog. An almost off-the-board long shot.

"If you don't see a soft spot in the field, you're probably the soft spot," laughs 25-year-old first-year skip Jason Gunnlaugson.

Next to nobody has ever heard of this five-foot-nine online-poker-playing/curling pro who has the audacity to think he might be able to get into the heads of Kevin Martin, Randy Ferbey, Glenn Howard, Jeff Stoughton, Kevin Koe, Wayne Middaugh and Pat Simmons in the field which will produce Canada's team to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

Gunnlaugson skipped the 12th seed in the 12-team Road to the Roar pre-trials event in Prince George B.C., to advance to the Dec. 6-13 round robin Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Olympic trials at Rexall Place.

"We felt we had realistic odds of getting to Edmonton, that it wasn't that ridiculous of a long shot," he said in a wide-ranging interview to open this daily series counting down to the competition.

"When you have 12 teams with four teams getting through, it isn't a long shot like it is in Edmonton with eight teams where you have to outright win it," he said.

"There may be a kazillion reasons why we shouldn't win, but we don't care."

The hope is that Gunnlaugson knows more about the seven other super-teams than they know about him.

"Right now they've had a grand total of one game to watch us on TSN. We've had hundreds to watch them," he said.

"Television in curling is such a beautiful curling tool. You have a Kevin Martin and a Glenn Howard at a Worlds and they play 11 times on TV and they have the microphones on them and you hear everything they have to say. You know virtually every thought they have in their heads. After a while you get to know how they think. You can exploit that.

"We very much know what they do and why they do it. The big problem is that they shoot at a ridiculously high percentage. If we're not able to match that, it doesn't matter."

If there's going to be another Brad Gushue story for Canada at Vancouver 2010, Gunnlaugson is going to be it.

"The last time it seemed to work out pretty good. We're at the age they were, but they had more national and international experience," he said, making the comparison to the Brad Gushue crew from Newfoundland long before they won gold at Torino 2006.

But who are these guys? Where is Beausejour? And how did they get to the elite eight with a first-year skip and a second right out of junior?

Justin Richter is the third with Braden Zawada at second and Tyler Forrest throwing lead rocks. The team has also added Edmonton's Ted Appelman as their fifth man.

"Beausejour is a little east and a little north, about an hour out of Winnipeg. I'm from Winnipeg, Justin is from Beausejour and the other two guys are from in between," said Gunnlaugson of their home.

Zawada was a junior last year who earlier this week told Jim Bender of the Winnipeg Sun: "I just turned 21 and it's crazy to even think of the Olympics. If we're good enough to be there, we're good enough to win. We know our capabilities and there is no doubt in our minds we can beat the teams there. It's a great feeling when you're an underdog team and you have as much confidence as we do."

Zawada was picked up at the end of last season when the team fired skip Daley Peters (after previously firing skip Reid Carruthers).

"Other teams cut leads. We cut skips. It's kinda strange, but we are are anything but traditional," said Gunnlaugson.

The young skip comes from a traditional background. His late grandfather Lloyd won three seniors titles in a row and went to a Brier during that span. His uncle Garry Van Den Berghe was with Jeff Stoughton when he won the 1999 Brier in Edmonton.

"I grew up in a curling rink. I was given rides on rocks when I was two years old. I can't remember a point where I didn't want to be really, really good at the game," said Gunnlaugson.

He's intense and flamboyant and outspoken and nobody seems really sure what to make of him yet.

"I just love the game so much and love the idea that all those people are going to watch me play in Edmonton. It's just a huge honour to be going to the Roar of the Rings in a field like this in the trials with a chance to go to the Olympics."

TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA

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TEAM IN FOCUS

PARTICIPATING TEAMS

MEN

Kevin Martin, Kevin Koe, Glenn Howard, Randy Ferbey, Jeff Stoughton, Pat Simmons, Wayne Middaugh, Jason Gunnlaugson

WOMEN

Jennifer Jones, Shannon Kleibrink, Cheryl Bernard, Stephanie Lawton, Krista McCarville, Kelly Scott, Amber Holland, Crystal Webster

TEAM GUNNLAUGSON SCHEDULE

SUNDAY, DEC. 6

6 p.m. vs. Kevin Martin

MONDAY, DEC. 7

1 p.m. vs. Kevin Koe

TUESDAY, DEC. 8

8:30 a.m. vs. Glenn Howard

6 p.m. vs. Randy Ferbey

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 9

1 p.m. vs. Jeff Stoughton

THURSDAY, DEC. 10

8:30 a.m. vs. Pat Simmons

6 p.m. vs. Wayne Middaugh

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JASON GUNNLAUGSON, SKIP

Age: 25 - Occupation: Poker player - Highlights: Played third for skip Reid Carruthers at 2008 Strauss Canada Cup ... second for Carruthers at 2008 Canadian Mixed.

JUSTIN RICHTER, THIRD

Age: 28 - Occupation: Managing Partner, Sunova Credit Union - Highlights: Played for Carruthers at 2008 Canada Cup.

BRADEN ZAWADA, SECOND

Age: 21 - Occupation: Anthropology student, University of Manitoba - Highlights: none

TYLER FORREST, LEAD

Age: 25 - Occupation: Office manager/safety co-ordinator - Highlights: Skipped by Carruthers at 2003 Karcher Juniors.

JASON GUNNLAUGSON


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