CALGARY — Brad Gushue ran through the Humpty’s Champions Cup field and into the record books.
Gushue capped an undefeated 7-0 run in the season finale Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournament with an 8-2 decision over Glenn Howard in Sunday’s final at WinSport Arena.
The St. John’s, N.L., crew of Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker have now won all seven top-tier titles in the series. Gushue has earned 10 in total, nine of which have come since Nichols rejoined the squad at the start of the Olympic cycle in 2014.
“It’s awesome,” said Gushue, who also claimed the Brier and world silver medal. “To win all seven of them, it’s been an amazing run that we’ve had over the last four years to win nine. It’s pretty crazy. I’m very proud of the team with the way we performed. I think we all wanted to check that one off this week. After a long season, I thought we brought some energy this week but we’re glad it’s over. Glad the year’s over.”
Team Gushue also posted perfect records at the Tour Challenge Tier 1 and Masters tournaments to take back-to-back GSOC titles at the start of the season and cashed in the Rogers Cup $75,000 bonus prize earlier this month in Toronto during the Players’ Championship.
“It’s been a great year,” Gushue said. “Really, when you look at it, it was a bit of a roller coaster from losing the trials, the mixed trials and then the worlds. To win three Slams, win the Brier, if you had told me at the beginning of the year that we would have this season, I would have taken it in a heartbeat. It’s been pretty amazing.”
The Humpty’s Champions Cup victory gave Gushue a cheque for $40,000 plus the opportunity to defend the title with a berth in next year’s event in Saskatoon.
“We needed two [Tour Challenge and Champions Cup] coming into this year and we got them both,” Gushue said. “Those were the ones we were gunning for this year and obviously the Rogers Cup, which we were able to achieve in Toronto. That one’s important because that shows the consistency.
“I’m just super proud of our team with the way we played. Glenn was vintage Glenn there for five ends. He made some great shots and we kept applying the pressure and got a miss there in the sixth that broke the game open. That was fun. It was a fun day.”
Gushue didn’t get off on the right foot in the final though as Howard, who has won 16 titles in the series, turned back the clock to start. Howard ran back his own guard to remove Gushue’s shot rock and sit partially covered. Gushue was unable to eliminate it, rubbing and rolling to give up a point.
Howard made the come-around draw to squeeze between two Gushue stones and land on the button during the third. Gushue tapped his own back to nestle on top and out came the measuring stick. After a couple looks at it, Gushue’s stone was just a hair closer to the pinhole tying the match.
There was more thievery in the fourth end as the plot thickened. Howard hit and rolled off through the crowded house to give up a steal and the lead but bounced back in the fifth with Gushue sitting two biting the button and lead Scott Howard and second David Mathers brushing it right on target to make it all square again at 2-2.
Gushue cracked the game wide open in the sixth end after a bad break for Howard, with his last hooking right on top of the guards. That opened the gate for Gushue to grab a three count.
“A little bit of a break but even if he had made it we would have had a shot for two or three there and his shot was extremely tough,” Gushue said. “It’s a little bit unfortunate for him, it seemed to have jumped on him, but we just kept applying the pressure end-after-end and eventually, you get a break or you get a miss and that’s what happened.”
The pressure was poured in the seventh with Gushue sitting four, including two in the four-foot circle. Howard opted for an angle raise but resulted in a three-steal for Gushue and handshakes.
Gushue said it’s good to already have a spot booked in next year’s Humpty’s Champions Cup.
“It takes a little bit of the pressure off but certainly, I think the way we’re going I’m pretty confident we’ll win one more next year but you never know,” Gushue said. “Curling is a funny sport and I’ve had some dry years too. You take the good with the bad but to make sure that we’re in this next year is great. It’s something we can set our schedule now because we’re in the Brier as well. All the big events we want to be into we’re in, which is great.”
Technically, there is still one more title left in the series for Gushue to win — the Tour Challenge Tier 2 — but don’t expect him to tank it in order to slip into that field, especially now that his team moves up to No. 1 on the Order of Merit world team ranking.
“Oh no, I don’t think that one’s included in the Slams,” Gushue said with a laugh. “I’m definitely not going to do that.”
Howard will return next season. The 55-year-old from Tiny, Ont., has promoted his son Scott Howard to third with Team Epping’s Tim March joining at lead. Mathers stays at second while super spare Adam Spencer, who played third this week in place of Richard Hart, sticks around as their alternate.
Earlier, Ottawa’s Rachel Homan defeated Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson 7-6 to successfully defend the Humpty’s Champions Cup women’s title.
The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling returns for 2018-19 with the Princess Auto Elite 10, Sept. 26-30, in Chatham, Ont.