LONDON, Ont. – It was supposed to be a farce.
Instead, at least for one player, it turned into the most emotional game of his life.
For another it was the thrill of his curling career.
It was a game both Newfoundland and Alberta didn't want to play, but when it was over Mark Nichols of Newfoundland had tears in his eyes and Dustin Eckstrand of Alberta had a smile as big as John Labatt Centre.
Brad Gushue's team finished first in the round robin and after losing both the 1-2 and semi-final playoff games had no interest in the first bronze medal game in the 82 year history of the Brier.
But for his third, it turned out to be his great goodbye to the game.
Nichols waved farewell to Canadian curling fans here Sunday after signing autographs, receiving big hugs by the boards from fans between ends and then came to the interview area when it was over with swollen red eyes and a big lump in his throat.
“I didn't expect it to be emotional, but it was hard not to be,” he said of his last game, at least for a few years.
“It's a relief to be moving on to something else but at the same time, I'm going to miss this,” said the 31-year-old who won an Olympic gold medal with Gushue at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games.
“I've never been that emotional after a game,” he said.
“I guess the closest I ever came was my last game in junior when I was 19 years old.
“I am truly going to miss it. But it is something I need to do. I want to travel and do things in my career I've never been able to do,” said the business development manager.
“It was great to win my last game. And I made my last shot. That's something I wanted to do,” he said of the 10-5 win over Kevin Martin's Albertans.
It wasn't the most serious game in the world, with both teams taking high risk shots at big ends, Gushue finally ending it with a four in the eighth.
But the two teams honored the game by giving the fans a game and doing so with a great deal of fan interaction.
“”It was a whole lot of fun,” said Nichols, who was playing in his eighth Brier and was hoping, especially after ending up first with a 9-2 record, of finally winning one to go with the Olympic gold medal.
“I enjoyed it. It was fun to have a game like that to interact with the crowd,” said Nichols.
It was also a game to remember for Dustin Eckstrand, who, like Nichols, shot 88%.
With second Marc Kennedy flying home to Edmonton for the birth of his second daughter, Ben Hebert moved up from lead into his position and fifth man Eckstrand moved into the lineup for Alberta.
“It was a great experience,” he said.
“It's a pretty big thrill to play a game like that at the Brier in front of a crowd like that,” he said of the
6,685 who watched the game.
Martin said it was cool for him to put the sub into the line-up.
“He's from back home where I grew up,” he said of the curler born in Sedgewick.
Martin said the two teams “played for fun – a lot of good shots were made.”
He said that was important for the sport.
“Fans are more important than anybody.”
But he didn't back down on his assertion that the bronze medal game doesn't belong at the Brier.
“It was almost embarrassing for both teams to play that game,” he said.
“I hope it goes away.”
Don't count on it.
Tickets are already on sale for next year's Saskatoon Brier and they're leaving here with more than 3,000 all-event tickets sold. They include a bronze medal game.
Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones