VICTORIA — Brad Gushue figured the Elite 10 final against Reid Carruthers was going to come down to the final end or even another thrilling draw-to-the-button shootout.
Gushue edged Carruthers in a decisive draw during the opening game of the event Thursday and both skips landed on the lid in their respective semifinal matches Saturday night in order to punch their tickets to the final.
The St. John’s, N.L., native Gushue might want to start picking lottery numbers because that’s the exact scenario that enfolded Sunday afternoon.
Fortunately for Gushue, Carruthers rolled heavy and stopped at the back end of the eight-foot circle and the 2006 Olympic gold medallist eased his shot in to grab a piece of the button and secure his fifth career Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling championship.
"Stressful," Gushue said after the game. "We don’t do anything the easy way. Again we were 2-up and we sort of let things slip and let it go to a draw-to-the-button, which as I mentioned yesterday it really is a coin toss at this level. When Reid missed the four-foot I felt pretty confident I could get it in there. With everything at stake it’s still a pretty nervy shot. Fortunately we put it on the button and got the win."
The team of Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker entered the Elite 10 coming off a physically and emotionally draining week at the Tim Hortons Brier where they came up short in the gold medal game against Kevin Koe's rink from Calgary. Not dwelling on the moment too much and getting right back out on tour proved to be the right therapeutic remedy as they posted a perfect 6-0 record in the Elite 10 to earn $27,500.
"After a disappointing finish last week it was probably a good thing to just get back out on the ice, keep playing," Nichols said. "We probably didn’t play as well as what we would have liked but we found ways to win games. We’ve been pretty good at that this year. It feels good to win another one of these Grand Slam events."
Team Gushue have thrived in the Pinty's GSOC series of late having now won four titles over the past two seasons. The Elite 10 was also their fourth Pinty's GSOC final appearance of 2015-16 through five events.
"We love playing on good ice with lots of swing and against the top teams," Gushue said. "This setting is fun. We enjoy this a whole lot more than playing in curling clubs in the middle of nowhere. Not to say that we don’t enjoy that, no disrespect, but obviously playing in front of 1,000 people, on TV, on great ice is a whole lot more fun and with curl.
"We enjoy it, we look forward to it and I think part of that leads to our success. I think when you’re having fun you enjoy it and you play a little bit better."
"Every time you come into this you’re playing the best in the world. You’ve got to play well enough to get to the playoffs let alone get to the final and we’ve been able to do that consistently," Nichols added. "Brad and I played in I don’t know how many Grand Slam events, 10 years worth before we got to a final and all that sort of thing. It’s really nice to be able to get there consistently and perform when we need to."
Gushue opened the final with the hammer and made a hit and roll takeout to count two to take the first end and go 1-up in the match play format event, where teams attempt to win the most ends per game.
Carruthers came right back in the second with a double raise to make it all square. The Winnipeg native Carruthers was wide and heavy with his last in three to miss the shot rock counter, and Gushue's final throw landed on the button for another deuce to retake the lead.
The fourth end resulted in a push and Gushue went 2-up in the fifth as he sat two prior to his last and didn't need to throw it when Carruthers's shot collided with a guard.
On the ropes in the sixth end, the momentum started to shift in Carruthers's favour as he made a beauty draw with his first skip stone to sit two and won the end when Gushue came up light on a double tap attempt.
Gushue tried a tricky angle raise double to ice the game in seven but didn't get the geometry right as Carruthers's two stones stayed to count for the steal and made it all square. Carruthers continued to apply the pressure and forced a push in eight to send it into the shootout.
The 2016 Elite 10 introduced a few new rules including one that limited teams to just two sweeping brushes and one skip brush throughout the entire duration of the event. Gushue said he loved the change and looks forward to having it in place at the next two Pinty's GSOC tournaments this year.
"I really think it’s a great move for the game and I certainly hope we do it at the Players’ Championship and the Champions Cup," he said. "I think it puts it back on throwing the right weight with the broom. We’ve missed more shots this week than we missed all year, to be honest, and we won. I think that’s the same across every sheet.
"I don’t think misses are that bad for curling. I think the way it was, the first part of the Brier guys were curling 92 or 94 percent, it almost gets a little bit boring when oh he’s going to make that. I think it’s what we need to do and the direction that the game needs to go is to be more like it was here this week."
The sixth event of the 2015-16 Pinty's GSOC is in the 6ix with Toronto hosting the Players' Championship next month for the third time in four years. The crown jewel of the series is the one trophy that has eluded Gushue over the years as he looks to not only complete a career Grand Slam (winning all four majors), but he also has a chance to take the Rogers Grand Slam Cup as the overall season champion.
"It would be awesome," Nichols said. "At the Players’ Championship there’s a lot at stake. We’ve never won it and we’ve been in that final a couple times. It would be nice to get there and be on the right side of it."
"We’re definitely going to be looking to recharge over the next couple weeks and make sure we come in motivated. I don’t think our motivation was quite where it was this week because last week was so emotionally draining, but we want to make sure we’re ready for that," Gushue added. "I think a week or two off and then really gear up leading into that, I think hopefully we could have a good performance. It’s one that I would love to win for sure. It’s the only one I haven’t won and obviously if we did win it would guarantee us the Rogers Grand Slam Cup as well, which is a nice bonus."
NOTES: Gushue also defeated Carruthers to win the National earlier this season in Oshawa, Ont. ... Carruthers's team features third Braeden Moskowy, second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson. ... Carruthers and Nichols previously played together with legendary skip Jeff Stoughton and won the National in 2013.