Gushue takes aim at elusive Brier championship

STEVE GREEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:51 PM ET

He’s been in eight Briers and never had a losing record. He’s won two world junior titles and Olympic gold. And all before his 30th birthday.

There’s little doubt Brad Gushue has established himself as one of the best curlers this country has produced, but one thing is missing from his glittering CV — a Canadian crown.

He’ll take run No. 9 next month at the Tim Hortons Brier at the JLC and remains convinced that sooner or later, Newfoundland and Labrador will celebrate a second crown to go with the most shocking Brier title of all — Jack MacDuff’s stunner in 1976.

“We’ve had a pretty good run,” Gushue said from St. John’s. “Our game has elevated the last few years and we’re starting to stand out. If we play to our level, we should have a very good shot.”

And it’s not a boastful claim, just a statement of fact born from experience and maturity on the national stage.

“At first, it was a little intimidating,” he said of his debut in 2003 in Halifax, where he went 6-5, before going 8-3 and losing the semifinal in 2004 in Saskatoon.

“You’re young and full of energy, but the difference between then and now is then you think you can win, but in the last few years we truly believe we can win. When you play for the first time against guys you grew up idolizing, you start thinking they’re better than you. But then, when you realize they’re human and you’re just as good as they are, that’s when you start to beat them.

“In all fairness, the first three times we probably weren’t at the level we needed to be to win. In a small province like Newfoundland, you have to develop more on the national level instead of the provincial level. But we’ve been in the playoffs the last four years. We lose the final in 2007 to (Glenn) Howard, last year (Kevin) Koe makes a draw to the pin to beat us, and the year before that (Jeff) Stoughton makes a double raise takeout to beat us.

“If we play long enough and keep putting ourselves in a position to win, either we’re going to take one of these or someone is going to give one to us.”

No one gave him 2006 Olympic gold in Turin. A Brier title would equal that, he said.

“For me, it would be pretty big. Growing up as a kid I watched the Brier and one of my first goals was to get to a Brier and win it.”

And while he’s not hanging up the broom any time soon, the question of who will succeed him as king of the Rock is already being asked. The answers are there, he said, pointing to the Colin Thomas rink that made the recent Canadian junior semifinal.

“There are a lot of good junior players here,” Gushue said. “Probably our most competitive discipline is junior men’s. The guys are solid fundamentally; it all comes down to their drive.

“The challenge we have in Newfoundland is to develop that talent. You’ve got to play the Glenn Howards, the Jeff Stoughtons and the Kevin Martins of the world and that costs a lot of money.”

Gushue and long-time third Mark Nichols have been teammates at least 12 years. Second Ryan Fry is in his third season while lead Jamie Danbrook is new. The chemistry is clearly there and the fact the Brier is in Ontario bodes well, Gushue said.

“We’ve had some pretty good runs in Ontario. We won the (2001) Canadian junior in St. Catharines” as well as making the Brier final in 2007 in Hamilton.

And while Ontario will be the home-province favourite, there’s little doubt which team will be the next with a majority of fans.

“Every Brier we’ve been to we’ve been the No. 2 team everyone cheers for,” Gushue said. “There are a lot of Newfoundlanders living across Canada and when people come to Newfoundland, they seem to fall in love with the province and the people — I guess because we’re so friendly.

“And maybe it’s because we’re a bit of an underdog. I mean, we haven’t won it in 35 years.”

Brier trail update

While six of the 12 entries have been determined — Shawn Adams of Nova Scotia, Pat Simmons of Saskatchewan, Eddie MacKenzie of P.E.I., Philippe Gagné of Quebec and James Grattan of New Brunswick are the others — it’s getting down to the business end of the championships for the other six, with big names positioned to advance.

Heading into Friday’s play, Howard topped the standings and had clinched a playoff spot at the Ontario championship in Grimsby; Kevin Martin has qualified out of the A flight for the 1-2 playoff game at the Alberta final in Red Deer, with defending Brier champ Kevin Koe playing in the B flight; Stoughton is still on the A side of the Manitoba championship; defending champion Jeff Richard has earned at least a tiebreaker spot in B.C.; defending champion Brad Jacobs, third at last year’s Brier, led the Northern Ontario standings; and Jamie Koe is off to a winning start in defence of his Territories crown.

All six remaining Brier entries will be determined Sunday.

Abby Weagant of Central Elgin, the OFSAA girls’ silver medallist in 2010, and Richard Krell of London Central, OFSAA boys’ quarterfinalist last year, will play at the Gore Mutual schoolgirl and schoolboy championships Thursday through next Saturday at Huntley after winning the A finals of their respective regionals last weekend at Goderich Maitland . . . Mike Smith of Ilderton and Scott Ferguson of Highland were the A and B winners of the Zone 16 intermediate men’s playdowns at Highland and advance to regionals Feb. 26-27 at Hamilton Glendale. The teams joining them there include Terry Corbin of Norwich and Nick Rizzo of Woodstock out of the Zone 15 playdowns at Tillsonburg and Daryl Shane of the host club in the Zone 14 event at Listowel.

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Brad Gushue

Born: June 16, 1980

Family: Wife Krista; daughter Hayley, 3

Olympics: 2006 gold, Turin (skip)

World juniors: 1998 gold (fifth for John Morris), 2001 gold (skip)

Brier appearances: Eight, including 2011

Brier record

2003: 6-5, tied for fifth in round-robin, missed playoffs; 2004: 8-3, third, lost 3-4 playoff game to Jay Peachey (B.C.); 2005: 6-5, seventh, missed playoffs; 2007: 8-3, tied for second, lost final to Glenn Howard (Ontario); 2008: 7-4, tied for fourth, lost tiebreaker to Bob Ursel (B.C.); 2009: 8-3, third, lost 3-4 game to Jeff Stoughton (Manitoba); 2010: 8-3, tied for third, lost 3-4 game to Kevin Koe (Alberta).

steve.green@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/SteveGatLFPress


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