REGINA — It took Brad Gushue several years to win his first Canadian men’s curling championship. His second didn’t take nearly as long.
Gushue downed Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher 6-4 in Sunday’s final for a second straight Canadian title.
Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker will wear the Maple Leaf at the men’s world championship in Las Vegas from March 31 to April 8.
Up 5-4 coming home with hammer and an Alberta stone on the four-foot rings, Gushue had thrown just one draw in the game, but coolly drew the button to win the Tim Hortons Brier.
"Felt really good on the throw," the skip said. "Obviously Brett and Geoff sweeping that, you just can’t throw heavy and they judged it to perfection."
They’re the first team to win back-to-back Briers since Kevin Martin in 2008 and 2009.
Gushue won his first Brier in 2017 after 13 tries and a pair of runner-up results.
After near-misses for the championship, the pressure on him to win in his hometown of St. John’s N.L., last year was immense. The team felt it in the form of stress and sleepless nights.
There was little tension in their game in Regina. Gushue’s team out of the Bally Hally Curling Club shot 91 per cent in the tournament and lost only one game in the preliminary round to Alberta.
"There were so many emotions last year winning at home," Gushue said "This year, I felt like we were really in control of ourselves the whole week. Even drawing the button I felt confident.
"These are definitely different feelings and different wins, but both are real special."
Curling Canada changed the format of the national men’s and women’s championships this year to accommodate 16 teams in each.
So the semifinal was played earlier Sunday instead of Saturday. Bottcher beat Ontario’s John Epping 6-4 to earn a showdown with Gushue.
Bottcher went 3-8 in their Brier debut last year, so the Edmonton team wasn’t counted among the favourites to win it.
But they twice beat 2013 champion Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario en route to the final.
"I just think it proves we belong," said Bottcher "You never know how many cracks your going to get at a Brier so in that sense I’m disappointed, but I’m so proud of myself and the guys.
"Hopefully we can take this experience and grow and have a better showing years to come."
Gushue’s win Sunday was his 123rd all-time at the Brier. Earlier in the tournament, the 37-year-old passed Russ Howard and Martin tied at 113.
And in a nod to history, the only other team from Newfoundland to win a Brier was Jack MacDuff in Regina in 1976.
Gushue went undefeated en route to winning last year’s world title in Edmonton. The last Canadian team to repeat as men’s world champions was Randy Ferbey in 2002 and 2003.
Nichols, 38, has been Gushue’s vice in 13 of 15 Brier appearances, as well as his third when they won Olympic gold in 2006.
Gallant, 28, has played second for Gushue for six years and 32-year-old Walker lead for seven.
Canada didn’t win an Olympic medal in team curling in Pyeongchang, South Korea, for the first time since the sport returned to the Winter Games in 1998.
So Gushue and Jennifer Jones, who will compete in the women’s world championship in North Bay, Ont., starting Saturday, will try to restore Canada to the international curling podium this season.
The United States is hosting the men’s championship for the first time since 2008 when it was in Grand Forks, N.D.
But Las Vegas, where the average high in April is 27 degrees, means the Gushue team may be the first at a world curling championship to tan by the pool between draws.
"I need a tan, so I’m looking forward to it," the skip quipped. "I need some colour after a long winter."
The sport’s profile in the U.S. rose dramatically with John Shuster’s team winning the country’s first Olympic gold medal in Pyeongchang.
Shuster’s team isn’t competing in Las Vegas, however, as they chose to skip the national championship. The Americans will be represented by Greg Persinger.
Sunday’s win was worth $62,000 to the Gushue team in prize money, cresting bonuses and athlete assistance funding.
Gushue will again return to next year’s Brier in Brandon, Man., as Team Canada.