Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gushue stocks Brier with excellent curlers

Ex-teammates key cogs in other teams

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EDMONTON -- Brad Gushue has a pretty good team at the Canadian men's curling championship. And he has a second, even better team that he's not playing with.

There is, on the one hand, the team who joined Gushue in the colours of Team Newfoundland Saturday on opening day at Rexall Place -- third Brett Gallant, second Adam Casey and lead Geoff Walker.

Walker and Casey were also Gushue's front-end at last year's Brier, while Gallant is a Brier rookie who was a hotshot junior, winning the 2009 Canadian title out of PEI. Put together, it's a strong supporting cast for the 2006 Olympic gold medal skip -- particularly in a province where the curling talent pool Gushue has to draw from is very shallow.

And then there's Gushue's other squad, the one made up of three former Gushue teammates who are here representing other provinces -- Manitoba's Mark Nichols, Saskatchewan's Chris Schille and Northern Ontario's Ryan Fry.

Separately, they are all key players on their respective new teams -- Nichols as lead for Jeff Stoughton, Schille as second for Brock Virtue and Fry as third for Brad Jacobs.

But reunite them all with Gushue and, well, even Gushue has to admit that would be an upgrade on his current squad. "If you look resumé-wise and just sheer skill at this point, I would have to say yes," Gushue said following a 10-2 opening-draw thrashing of Nova Scotia's Paul Flemming. "And I don't think my current teammates would be too upset at this point.

"But there's more to teams than just skill. If you took the four best players at this event, it probably wouldn't make a very good team."

Gushue was asked if he takes any pride in the fact that so many of his former teammates seem to find success elsewhere after they move on. Gushue just laughed. "My goal is to come here and play every team with an ex-teammate," he said. "So I have a little ways to go."

While he's curling this week in his 10th Brier, Gushue has never competed in more than two consecutive Briers with the same team, contributing in part to a reputation that he can be difficult to curl with. But Gushue said some of the transient nature of his teams over the years needs to be placed into geographical context.

"I have the rap of going through a lot of teammates, but I'm trying to bring guys down (to Newfoundland) from across the country and they're uprooting and moving away from family and friends.

"It's a tough situation."

Fry, for instance, moved from Manitoba to curl with Gushue. The two had some success over four seasons in Newfoundland, but a disappointing Brier last year led to Gushue parting ways with Fry last spring and bringing in Gallant at third.

No hard feelings, said Fry, who simply packed up his curling gear and moved to Sault Ste. Marie to curl with Jacobs. "I have nothing but good things to say about curling with Brad," Fry said Saturday after an opening win over N.W.T.'s Jamie Koe. "I think we grew together through those four years and I think we helped each other get a little bit better. I think some of my personality traits rubbed off on him a little bit -- and some of him probably rubbed off on me."

Alas, both men also continue to pursue the same goal -- to win their first Brier. The difference for Gushue, however, is that having already won Olympic gold, winning a Brier is now his ultimate goal.

"I think I'm the only curler in the world right now who'd want to win a Brier more than an Olympics," said Gushue. "I think everybody here, if you asked them if they would take an Olympics or a Brier, they'd choose an Olympics.

"I'd choose a Brier. My teammates probably don't like that, but I've won an Olympics before and this is a special event for me and it's something I want to check off on the list of goals."

With his 15th Brier appearance on Saturday, Ontario's Glenn Howard passed his brother Russ to take over the record for most Brier appearances -- a record that Gushue will almost certainly break eventually, curling out of a province in which he is annually heads and tails above everyone else.

Gushue concedes an asterisk might be necessary if he does go on to break the appearances record, but notes in his own defence that his teams have always been competitive at the Brier -- making the playoffs in six of nine previous appearances.

So, is this the year he finally adds a Brier tankard to that Olympic gold medal?

"I'm not going to stand here and say we're coming here to win," said Gushue. "But I'm also not going to stand here and say we're here for a good time. We really feel if we play well, we'll have a chance at the end of the week."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2013 B7

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