KINGSTON, ONT. — As his last rock slid down the ice, Brad Gushue threw both arms in the air and held them up there while the crowd roared so loud you might’ve mistaken Kingston for his hometown of St. John’s, N.L., just for a second. Gushue pumped both fists repeatedly, then he slid down the ice to celebrate with his teammates while Tina Turner’s “(Simply) The Best” blared over the speakers.
Gushue and Geoff Walker, Brett Gallant and Mark Nichols met for a four-man bearhug on the blue carpet. Then Gushue, the newly-minted three-time Brier champion, ran over to the sideboards and started blowing kisses at a phone, cued up for a Facetime with his wife and two daughters, who were watching from home. He was excited to see them, but it was “agonizing” too, he said, because he wanted to hug that phone, wanted to hug them. He will tomorrow.
“They’ll be the first people I see when I get off the plane,” he said, grinning, a gold medal draped around his neck. “I can’t wait.”
But first, the celebration. On Sunday at Leon’s Centre, Gushue’s rink from Newfoundland and Labrador won the eastern-most province’s third Brier title in four years, and in clinical fashion, with a 7-3 win over Team Alberta.
“Uuuh, friggin’ awesome,” is how it felt, a grinning Gushue said, after he’d hoisted that massive Tankard Trophy over his head. “I don’t know if you can quote that or use that (oh, we will) but it feels absolutely incredible.”
Absolutely incredible describes the way Gushue played, too: He curled Sunday night at a near-perfect, 97 per cent. All week, he says it felt like in this stacked field, a half-shot miss might’ve cost you a game. “Today, I don’t really think we missed that half-shot,” he said.
“To win in this field which I believe is probably the strongest field I’ve certainly played in, in the 17 Briers, and to come through and play the game we played today, that’s special, to play our best game in the finals.”
It wasn’t the barnburner you expected in this final. Alberta came into the championship game with a sizzling Brier-best record of 11-1, but Sunday night wasn’t Alberta skip Brendan Bottcher’s night. This time wasn’t the charm for the 28-year-old, who has now lost in three straight Brier finals.
Alberta third Darren Moulding held back tears and could barely get his words out afterwards.
“I’m starting to get older, so I don’t know how many times I’m gonna be able to get back here,” the 37-year-old said. He wiped under one eye to stop a tear from falling. “I’m proud of the guys. Just wish it would’ve turned out different. I know we can play a lot better than that.”
Alberta has shown it can, but Gushue and Co. owned this final from start to finish. “The first two ends, it was a dream start,” as Newfoundland’s second, Gallant, put it. And it pretty well continued that way.
Newfoundland capitalized on three early errors in the first three ends, including a steal of one in the first and a double takeout for three in the third end, both times after Bottcher’s shots came up against guards. Gushue had a controlling 4-1 lead into the fourth, and the fans here went absolutely berserk — there were a lot of Newfoundland and Labrador flags waving in this crowd. Through three ends, Gushue was curling at 100 per cent. Bottcher was at 50 per cent.
“I expected him to come out guns a-blazin’,” Gushue said of Bottcher, after it was all over. “With the last two years of experience we were ready for a big game and we got three misses, really, in each of the first three ends. Once we went up 4-1, it felt like we had all the momentum then. It was just a matter of not taking the foot off the gas, and we didn’t do it, we kept it down.”
Newfoundland did. Nothing came easy for Alberta in this game, while Gushue and Nichols in particular hit shot after shot. Gushue greeted most of his stunners with a nod, an eyebrow raise and maybe a little comment, like: “Good.”
“Man everyone on our team played so solid,” Gallant said. “Anytime they had a slight chance, we just snuffed it out. All weekend long really, they [Gushue and Nichols] were clinical, so good.”
Gushue called it “almost a perfectly executed game.”
And what a place to put one of those together. To know what it means to even get to play on this stage, in the Brier final, just watch Gushue after he scored the last point to win the semifinal earlier Saturday. He stayed down in his crouch in the middle of the ice, hand over his mouth in disbelief and awe and excitement. Gushue didn’t move for a couple of seconds. And that says it all: This is a guy who’s made it to this final four times in the last five years.
“Who knows how many more of these you’re going to get to play,” the World No. 3 said, soon after, foam roller resting at his feet (he’d use that later). “These are really, really hard to make. To make four in five years, yeah, I feel blessed, spoiled, lucky.”
And of course, to win three in five years, he has to feel all of those things, but also really, really talented and good. The field this year was something to behold: The top eight standing for the championship round were Canada’s top eight, and all ranked among the world’s top 13. That’s bananas, that field. And to win it, Gushue had to get through an Alberta team of lead Karrick Martin, second Brad Thiessen, Moulding and Bottcher, who were near-perfect up until Sunday.
“Couldn’t have asked for a better effort,” Gushue said.
For the effort, Gushue’s rink earns $105,000, a spot in next year’s Olympic trials, nearly $170,000 in Sport Canada funding over two years, and they’re Team Canada next time the Brier rolls around. It’s huge. To boot, the Brier’s Tankard Trophy is beautiful (look out, Lord Stanley) and their names are etched on there for a third time. A pair of Mounties paraded it out onto the ice just before the eighth end, for all to see.
The first time they won it, Gallant says each of them got to take it home and hang out with it for a couple of days. “It’s unbelievable,” he said, after snapping a shot of Nichols with the hardware. “I grew up dreaming of that as a kid. The first time is amazing and this time is almost just as special. Lots of names that I really look up to on that trophy, so to have myself on there, three times now with this team, it’s simply amazing.”
At the thought of the best part of winning this national curling championship, Nichols looked up and shook his head.
“Man, it’s just the history of the Brier,” he said. “I remember watching [fellow three-time Brier champion] Pat Ryan in ’88 and ’89, you know, you watch Kevin [Martin] and Randy [Ferbey] and all these guys who’ve got their names on this trophy. Now we’ve got three of ‘em? Like, I never imagined.”
“Just the knowledge that you beat every team in Canada, that’s the best part,” Gushue added, with a big grin. “There’s so many good teams. There’s just that pride of, you know, we did this.”
And for the third time, no less.