SLAM!Sports
February 25, 2006
Rockin’ the house
By TERRY JONES

PINEROLO, Italy — Maybe we should have sent a team of Newfoundlanders to the Olympics in hockey, too.

Thirty years ago, when Jack MacDuff shocked the nation by winning the one and only Brier ever for Newfoundland, who would have believed that one day a rink from the Rock would bring Canada its first Olympic gold medal home from men’s curling?

“Just because we’re from Newfoundland doesn’t mean we shouldn’t win,’’ Brad Gushue said. “We have the Olympic gold medal. No one can ever take that away.

“We were the first. A hundred years from now they’ll be talking about how we won the first. I’m sure there are going to be more. But we’ll always be the first.’’

In Nagano, Mike Harris of Toronto settled for curling silver, and in Salt Lake, Kevin Martin of Edmonton missed a last rock shot to do the same. It took four Newfoundlanders and ringer Russ Howard to get the job done.

“This is huge for Canada,’’ Howard said. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but Canada deserved a gold medal somewhere along the line. I’m just happy it’s us.’’

They’ll get the gold today in Turin at the medal plaza, but they won it yesterday like you would have expected Canadian teams to win gold at the Olympics if the sport ever made it into the five-ring circus.

Thirty years later, MacDuff is still a hero in Newfoundland. One can only imagine how it will be for Gushue, Mark Nichols and Jamie Korab for the rest of their lives, not only at home in St. John’s but throughout the entire nation. Even Mike Adam, the regular member of the Gushue team who gave up his spot on the team to bring in Howard, will go back a hero.

“It was the hardest thing I ever had to do and the best thing I ever did,” Adam said. “We won the Olympic gold medal. It’s like a fairy tale.’’

‘History-making’

Added Toby McDonald, the team coach and a member of the MacDuff rink: “This was history-making. No question this is the biggest thing to happen to Newfoundland and Labrador in sport. It was an historic achievement. They’ll be talking about these boys for 50 years – 250 years.’’

They ran up the score to a 10-4 over-and-out after eight ends, a blowout of Markku Uusipaavalniemi, hitting the Finland rink with a six-ender which should have been a seven-ender to make it look like play.

Who knows if this will cure the national depression from the disappointment in hockey, but it’s going to create the all-time party in the place famous for kitchen parties and whistle wetting on George St. in St. John’s. And not just there.

“Fort McMurray is the second biggest city in Newfoundland except it’s in Alberta,” Korab said. “It’s a lot earlier in the day out there. That party will go on even longer.’’

“We’d heard (yesterday) about the school kids had been given the afternoon off and how there was probably going to be a province wide flu epidemic with people booking off sick.’’

Gushue said it has to be nuts back home and can hardly wait to get there.

“I imagine there will be a mob at the airport when we get back.’’

Because the team had to keep playing after cracking six on the sixth end due to a rule requiring the game go at least eight before they could shake hands, there was no great celebration on the ice.

Howard and Gushue hugged. Howard then hugged Korab and Gushue hugged Nichols. Then the four had a huge group hug. But a few seconds later Gushue asked for a cellphone and said “Put mom on.’’

His mother, Maureen, is battling cancer.

“Right after the game I called mom. I didn’t get much in. She was crying. That started me crying,’’ he said.

“Every day, every hour since I’ve been here I’ve thought about her. Win or lose, I wanted her here. When we get home she’s the first person I want to hug. Nobody better get in my way when we get to the airport. She’s the first person I want to see.’’

Howard is scheduled to fly home to Moncton but may have to join the boys for the arrival in St. John’s.

Howard, who turned 50 here, could be accused of milking the moment with body language after making big shots, particularly after making a great shot on the fourth end.

“If he was milking it, he should have been. He deserves it,’’ Gushue said.

“The biggest thing about bringing Russ Howard in on the team was it gave the four of us more confidence in ourselves. Anytime you can bring arguably the greatest curler of all time on the team ...’’

Capped his career

An icon, somebody suggested.

“We stopped looking at Russ as an icon long before we got here. You can’t live with the guy, listen to him snoring and have all his clothes all over the room and look at him as an icon.’’

Howard said just getting this chance to join this team capped his career.

“I’ve had three opportunities to represent my country internationally and I’m so happy I was able to win all three,’’ the 1987 and 1993 world champion said.

“This is totally different. There’s so much pressure for Canada to do well.

“Olympic gold, the first one for Canada, how do you top that?’’


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