This Friday, December 11th, marks the 10-year anniversary of Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Russ Howard, Jamie Korab and Mike Adam winning the 2005 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials to earn the right to represent Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
It was an unbelievable run at the Trials for a team deemed to have “no chance” — Gushue charged through the round robin posting an 8-1 record against one of the toughest fields assembled and topped it all off with an 8-7 victory over Jeff Stoughton in the final.
Over the next few days our oral history series will examine that miracle week for Team Gushue. In Part 1, let’s take a close look at the St. John’s, N.L., based team leading into the event.
Brad Gushue, Team Gushue, skip: Growing up since Mark moved down when he was 18 up until he moved away, we were really good friends. We were young and single at the time, we had girlfriends but life was different at that point than it is now. We’ve always had a pretty good chemistry and it’s been a fun run.
Mark Nichols, Team Gushue, third: The dynamic between all of us was great. We had all played together through juniors and then sporadically after we came into men’s, Jamie went into men’s the year before myself and Brad and then Mike a year after us. We were on different teams for a few years there but we all were great friends and it was easy curling together.
It was just four years prior that Gushue had skipped Team Canada to the 2001 world junior curling title. Although Gushue won the 2004 Canada Cup East to earn his spot at the Trials, competed for Newfoundland and Labrador at the past three Brier tournaments and finished runner-up at the 2005 Players’ Championship, there was still something missing. That led to Gushue bringing two-time world champion Russ Howard on board as a fifth/alternate.
Gushue: That came about actually at the end of the season before. I had a sit-down with our coach, Toby McDonald at the time, and I asked him the question, ‘Do you think we’re good enough right now to win the Olympic Trials with the team that we have?’ and his straight answer was no. It was the exact same feeling that I had and I said, ‘Well, what are we going to do about it?’ We talked about some names and maybe bringing someone in. Russ was the first one I thought of and suggested. When we talked about other names, every time we kept coming back to Russ. A few days later we gave him a call and asked if he’d be interested in coming on as a fifth, at that time, just to give us a security blanket so to speak, and he said yes.
Nichols: We realized that of all the things that we lacked going into the Olympic Trials that year was the experience of that big game. Russ is arguably one of the best curlers to ever play the game. He had been through every situation imaginable. We thought that experience and expertise would really add something to our team.
Brent Laing, Team Howard, second: Bringing in Russ certainly helped. I think his experience, just his steady shot-making, he played second but he just makes shot after shot after shot and it never hurts and he never makes too many bad strategy calls. Just a calming influence and bringing in three young guys, we were basically the same age as Brad so at that time bringing in somebody like that just adds so much confidence to the team and knowing that even if he’s not right, you think he’s right. The calls he’s making and just putting your faith in him, it worked out.
Marc Kennedy, Team Morris, second: Brad had nothing but success his whole junior career, he was a good skip and he was looking to break through. Russ was just the guy he needed to help him get over the edge.
Richard Hart, Team Howard, third: It was a huge game-changer, absolutely. I think it was a great decision by the team … that was the difference-maker for sure. They brought in a guy with tons of experience and that coupled with the youthful exuberance that Mark and Brad had and Jamie was just the perfect combination. I’ve heard Brad talk about how much he learned from Russ in the one, maybe one and a half years they played together. He credited Russ a lot in terms of the experience he brought to that team.
Glenn Howard, Team Howard, skip: Brad Gushue even at that young age was still an accomplished skip. What he had already done in the junior ranks was incredible and into the men’s. He was one of those teams that I don’t think anybody thought was going to win it but again he wasn’t the free space on the bingo card. You didn’t know if you’d go out and play him that you were going to win. Obviously to bring my brother on at that point was a huge catalyst and I think one of the big things that brought him over the top.
As the 2005-06 season progressed, Mike Adam volunteered to step aside to let Russ Howard play second stones and call the game.
Nichols: For (Mike) to do what he did was just amazing. You could argue that if it didn’t happen we probably wouldn’t be talking about this today. It was a very selfless act. Even when he did it, a lot of guys who would be put into that position and say they’d do it but Mike added so much to our team even though he may not have been throwing rocks. He did everything that we asked of him and without even having to be asked he was doing everything a member of the team would do. We wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for some of the stuff that he did.
Gushue: We started off the next season and things kind of kept going the same way they were going at the end of the season before and I knew it wasn’t kind of trending the way that we wanted it to. I think it was our third event that year in 2005 that I decided to make the switch. We brought Russ in and he played an event in Utica, New York. We went 5-1, we went through the round robin undefeated and played really well and just got outplayed in the quarters. I felt this is right. This is the way we need to go. The decision was made at that point so we knew well in advance that at the Olympic Trials that Russ was going to be a part of it but we didn’t tell many people.
There was something else Gushue was keeping on the down-low as he was playing with a heavy heart with his mother battling cancer.
Gushue: It was a tough time for our family because my mother was going through cancer treatments and we kept it secret up until that week. It got leaked out and people made a big deal out of it but it was a good distraction for our whole family knowing that we were going to the Trials and then ultimately going to the Olympics. It kind of kept the focus off the negative side of her treatment. Obviously we want to make sure she was okay, that was our number one priority, but you tend to dwell on stuff like that too much. I think the Olympic Trials and the Olympic experience helped us to not do that as a family.
Nichols: You never want to see a friend going through something like that with a family member. Curling was probably a bit of a getaway for Brad to try to just get away from everything that was going on, not that you want to get away from it but just get your mind off of things. We wanted to play well for him because his family was there and they had been through so much. At the end of the day we all know someone who’s gone through that sort of thing, whether it’s a friend or a teammate or anything like that and you try to support him as much as you can. If they want to be left alone, they want to be left alone and if want support, they’ll ask for support. That’s kind of what we did as teammates. If he wanted to talk, we’d talk. If he didn’t want to talk about it, then we didn’t talk about it. We were there to support him through everything. It was an unfortunate situation that he was in and thank goodness now you look back 10 years ago and his mom is doing very well.
Entering the Trials with Russ Howard inserted into the lineup, Gushue was still considered a darkhorse pick to win.
Gushue: For us going into the Trials we were the underdogs. I don’t think anybody expected much of us going in there, except for us. We had geared up towards the Olympic Trials and once we got our spot in 2004, everything we did was geared towards those Trials and being as ready as we could. I think the big thing for us is we treated it like every event that we played leading up to the Trials where some other teams treated it like a more important event. We tried to have the same attitude and I think for us we were able to maintain our level of play going into that event where some other teams, some of the favourites I guess, kind of struggled during that week.
Hart: My personal thoughts were I wouldn’t rule anyone out. If you ranked the teams going into that week, Gushue would not have been near the top of the rankings by no means, but I played on a team in 1997 that is very comparable to that Gushue team. Going into the 1997 Trials, the Mike Harris team, the average curling fan probably would have had us ranked seven or eight out of 10, but we felt that we were better than that. We thought we were three, four, five or six. We had a lot of faith in ourselves and I’m sure that was the way Brad and his team felt going into the 2005 Trials. It’s a strange event in that when you’ve been around the game long enough you realize anybody can get hot and the rankings going into something like that really don’t play a part of it in who wins and who doesn’t.
While many had only thought about Team Gushue’s long odds, Jeff Stoughton was quoted in a newspaper article saying he believed Gushue had “no chance” at winning the Trials.
Gushue: He said what a lot of people were thinking. I think if you polled 95 percent of the people around the Trials they probably would have said we had no chance either. He just said it in the media. When I read the article before the Olympic Trials, I actually cut the article out and put it in the bottom of my bag and when I got undressed it was there at the bottom of my bag every time. It was a little bit of an extra motivation for sure and a little bit of karma I guess that we played him (in the final). There were no hard feelings, Jeff’s a great guy and they were a great team, a first-class team, he just said what everybody else was thinking and I respect that.
Nichols: We try not to think about it when you’re in the situation or in the moment but I believe that a lot of us used it as a bit of motivation and we wanted to prove that we belonged amongst those top teams so it added a little bit of fuel to that fire for us. No hard feelings, Jeff said something that every other player in the event probably, with the exception of us, was thinking. There were probably a lot more Canadian curling fans that were thinking the exact same thing. Jeff was just bold enough to say it. I don’t think there was any surprise when he said it. I don’t think we were favourites.
Laing: Going into the event they were a young team that really nobody expected much out of, including Jeff Stoughton, who made that famous quote that they had no chance to win. I don’t think many people would have said that but that was the feeling going in. If we weren’t the favourites, they were certainly not the favourites. They were picked to finish probably middle or even lower in the pack and it just didn’t go that way.
Special thanks to Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Glenn Howard, Brent Laing, Marc Kennedy and Richard Hart for sharing their thoughts. Join us tomorrow for Part 2 as we look at a few of the other teams that competed in the event.