Just when Brad Gushue thought he had all of the answers, someone changed the questions.
The St. John’s, N.L., crew of skip Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker have won a jaw-dropping 10 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles over the past five years, the most among all men’s teams over that span with no one even close to their double-digit total within the division. If that’s not convincing enough these Newfoundland Growlers have been the top dogs in the men’s division of the series in recent years, they’ve also won the Pinty’s Cup twice as season champions.
Yet, Team Gushue entered 2019-20 ranked No. 9 on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit with 336.934 points and closer to No. 15 Team McDonald (228.957 points) on the bubble than reclaiming No. 1 from Team Koe (512.335).
How the heck did that happen? Well, you can either chalk it up to a wonky points system (let’s not open that can of worms again) or the fact Team Gushue qualified for the playoffs in all 11 events they competed in on tour last season but only brought home the hardware once when they won the Princess Auto Elite 10.
When you’ve set the bar high and don’t clear the landing, sometimes just being good isn’t good enough. That’s what Gushue is hoping to have sorted out ahead of the first Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event of the season, the Masters, beginning Tuesday night in North Bay, Ont.
“We just don’t seem to be clicking the way we have and aren’t making the timely shots,” Gushue said earlier this month at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard. “That could just be complete randomness or could be something we’re doing and that’s what we’ve got to figure out between now and I guess North Bay.”
Gushue, the 2006 Olympic gold medallist and 2017 world champion, hasn’t had any luck sorting that out so far this season with a quarterfinal finish at the Shorty Jenkins Classic and a semifinal result at the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard. Gushue missed out on the final in the 6ix as his first skip stone of the final end against Brad Jacobs landed in the worst possible spot for him where the eventual champion was able to follow the path and freeze right on top making the shot stone practically unlockable. Not even Houdini could escape those chains although Gushue gave it a shot on a tricky runback that missed the mark.
“It may not be anything. It may be, just like I said, randomness and missing the wrong shots at the wrong time,” Gushue said. “Sometimes you go through little streaks of that and we went through four years of not missing many of them. Over the last year, year and a half, we’ve had a few of them. We’ll discuss this after today and figure out which one of them it is.”
Gushue felt pretty good entering the season and a lot better than he had a year prior — both physically and mentally — following the last draining Olympic cycle grind.
“I’m a whole lot more excited about getting the season started this year than I was last year,” Gushue said during last month’s Shorty Jenkins Classic. “The year before last season we had a long two (years) with the Olympic season. I wasn’t as excited about getting it started as I am this year so I feel better physically and certainly in a better place mentally.”
Team Gushue conducted a curling camp over the summer and also threw some rocks leading into the season, which isn’t usually the norm as they haven’t had early ice on The Rock in previous years. Still, it’s a slow and steady process and they haven’t ramped things up quite yet.
“I’ve really taken my time to make sure I do a good job physically that I’ll be healthy the whole season,” Gushue said. “I still haven’t got all of the kinks ironed out, I don’t feel like I’m throwing at 100 percent yet, but certainly I feel good physically, which is a positive.”
Although consistency is key to success, Gushue is OK with missing the playoffs a couple of times as long as it balances out in the end with more appearances in the finals.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “Nobody cares if we make the playoffs in every event but they care if you win two, three or even four of them. For us, it’s a little bit more focused on winning events.”
Following the Elite 10 victory last season, Gushue lost in the quarterfinals five times in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling series, calling it their “nemesis” once they started facing stiffer competition that had been dialled in that week.
“We just weren’t as sharp as what we had been a few years previously,” he said. “We’ve changed our focus a little bit, we’ve changed our training leading into it. We’re trying to go back to some things that we did in the past that were successful for us and that will, hopefully, get us straightened out.”
Team Gushue take on Team Dunstone during the opening night of the Masters at North Bay Memorial Gardens.
NOTES: The Masters is the first of six Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events on the season and one of four majors in the series. … The total prize purse is $300,000 and is split evenly between the men’s and women’s divisions. Winners receive the lion’s share plus berths towards the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup taking place April 29 to May 3, 2020, in Olds, Alta. … Also up for grabs at the Masters are Pinty’s Cup bonus points. The leaders following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April will capture the Pinty’s Cup with additional prize money awarded.