Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Two curlers, lots of history

Nichols facing ex-skip Gushue with Stoughton at nationals

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EDMONTON -- Look, whatever happens tonight, it's never going to erase what Brad Gushue -- and God, or at least curling's version of Him -- did to Jeff Stoughton that cold Halifax night in December 2005.

And Gushue, to his everlasting delight, knows it.

"As long as my career goes and his career goes," Gushue mused Tuesday, "I kind of won the one that we bought wanted to win.

"He's probably had a better record against me over the years, but we won that game."

'That game' was, of course, the final of the 2005 Canadian Curling Trials; the game Gushue won on a 10th-end measure; the game that sent Gushue to the 2006 Winter Olympics and, ultimately, the top of the podium; the game that changed Gushue's life.

And also, the game that capped an event Stoughton infamously -- and to his everlasting regret -- predicted beforehand that Gushue had "no chance" to win. Yeah, that game.

Put it all together and what you have is a delicious backdrop to this game -- the one that will see Newfoundland (6-0) take on Manitoba (5-1) at the Canadian men's curling championship tonight (8:30 p.m., TSN) in a battle where the huge playoff implications promise to be only the beginning of the drama.

Because, in addition to all this other stuff, there is also yet another subplot in play tonight as Gushue and his longtime former third Mark Nichols face each other at the Brier for the first time as opponents.

Nichols and Gushue won a world junior title together, eight Newfoundland men's titles together and both that 2005 Trials final and 2006 Olympic gold-medal final together. But the two parted ways following the 2011 season and after a year in semi-retirement, Nichols had a decision to make last spring when he got two phone calls.

The first call, as Gushue explained last weekend, was from him, an offer to reunite a familiar and winning combination for this season and take a run at trying to get back to the next Trials, in Winnipeg next December.

The second call came from Stoughton, with an offer to join a familiar old nemesis for this season and take a run at those same Trials.

The first offer would require Nichols to do nothing more than walk down the block. The second offer would require him -- and his wife -- to quit their jobs, pack up their lives and move across the country. And do all that to take a demotion, from third to lead.

Nichols took the second offer, handing Stoughton his first win over Gushue of any serious consequence since that Trials final in '05.

"I took the year off to get away from the game and completely relax and remove myself completely," Nichols said Tuesday. "And I felt when I decided to come back, I wanted to do something completely different.

"The offer from Jeff was just too good to pass up for me. I thought it was just a whole different challenge for me."

Gushue admits he was stunned after Nichols said no to him, but then said yes to Stoughton. "I talked to Mark a couple of weeks before and he said he had no interest in playing again and didn't miss the game. And then all of a sudden, I read in the newspaper he was playing with Jeff. It was a little bit surprising, but I can't blame him. Any time you can play in front of (Stoughton third) Jon Mead and Stoughton, it's a pretty good position and you know you're going to win a lot of games...

"They've had a good year," Gushue continued with a grin, "and hopefully they finish second this week."

Tonight's result may go a long way toward determining that as the two teams jockey not just for playoff spots, but also playoff positioning.

"It will be an interesting game, I'm sure," said Stoughton. "I'm sure Mark and Brad will have some words before the game. It should be fun."

Stoughton, Mead and second Reid Carruthers have all credited the addition of Nichols to the squad this season with a revitalization that has seen them put together a very strong season on the cashspiel circuit and through the playdowns.

But there has been no team hotter than Gushue through the first four days of this event -- although Ontario, also at 6-0, is just as hot -- and that makes for yet another epic Stoughton-Gushue clash tonight.

Nichols says that while he remains a fiercely proud Newfoundlander, his only loyalties tonight will be to his skip and the Bison on his back.

"There's no mixed emotions at all," said Nichols. "I am here only to do my job and help Manitoba win a Brier."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2013 C5

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