Gunnlaugson winning over fans

CON GRIWKOWSKY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

Curling crowds love an underdog, especially one with a bit of bite.

In these trials, there's no bigger underdog than mop-topped Manitoba youngster Jason Gunnlaugson.

He's this generation's answer to Guy Hemmings in the charisma department who lists his occupation as poker player. Even though he's been unable to cash in on his on-ice gambles, the fans love his flamboyant style.

So do the fellow curlers.

Amy Nixon, third for the Shannon Kleibrink rink, shouted out 'I love you Jason' during Gunnlaugson's opening-night loss to Kevin Martin.

"I wasn't sure who it was," Gunnlaugson said yesterday after his loss to Kevin Koe. "But the guys on the rink pointed her out."

When asked yesterday whether the love was unconditional, Nixon chuckled.

"I'm not sure I can hang around with him because he doesn't drink," said Nixon. "You can ask my husband (Mike Westlund) about that."

Gunnlaugson's response?

"She says that, but ...," fired back the 24-year-old.

You get the idea. The kid, who took over as skip when his former skipper Reid Carruthers quit curling to become a teacher, is having as much fun playing in this event as people are watching him.

"It could be worse, that's for sure," he said after dropping to 0-2. "It better be the good Team Gunnlaugson that comes out tomorrow, otherwise we'll be playing the role of spoiler and we don't want to be doing that."

He plays poker for fun, but curling is his passion.

"The crowd wants to cheer for a young guy," he said. "The guys played so good in front of me but it's frustrating. We just have to make some shots and put some points on the board, and they're going to be there yelling. They're just looking for a reason and we have to give it to them."

Could it be his hair? In a field that includes many players with thinning thatches, Gunnlaugson stands out.

"There's a few out there, yeah. It's a little bit sparse out there."

There's another difference between curling and playing cards.

"I've never felt this bad after playing cards," said Gunnlaugson.

"There's something weird about curling. It looks like such a simple game but when you screw up, there's something amazingly frustrating about it."

CON.GRIWKOWSKY@SUNMEDIA.CA

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CON GRIWKOWSKY'S SUPER SHOT

JASON GUNNLAUGSON VS. KEVIN KOE

Hit, peel and score two -- sixth end

With last rock of the sixth end, Jason Gunnlaugson bounces off his rock, kicking out Kevin Koe's third shot. He then rolls right to kick out Koe's shot rock to score a pair.

"We figured the one we were hitting first, our own would go pretty close to the button and we were back four. The shooter had to kill the one on top four and kinda nestle in toward the button. They'd both go if you hit half-rock. It was one of the only smiling points of the day."


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