Ottawa - Brad Gushue will do anything to keep his mind off curling during the days this week, even watching some admittedly lame “Hunting Nazi Treasure” show on TV.
“And they never find the treasure,” he shrugs. “I’m kind of done with that one.
“The boys watch curling, but I find you get caught up in the emotions of the game, and you kind of start cheering for certain things. And that emotion takes away from what you can give later that night,” he explained.
Hey, whatever works.
And, believe me, it’s working for Gushue at the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials, where he, along with Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker from the Bally Haly and St. John’s curling clubs made it four straight wins Friday night with a 6-3 victory over Calgary’s Kevin Koe.
It was the first glitch in Koe’s record this week, who suffered his first loss against seven wins.
In terms of standings, the game meant nothing. Koe had clinched first place and will relax Saturday as he and Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert prepare for Sunday night’s final (8:30 p.m., NL time, TSN).
At stake at these Roar of the Rings is a berth in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.
While Koe and Co. look to be sitting pretty, they might want to keep an eye to a hard-charging Gushue group, who appear to be in the same form that won them the Tim Hortons Brier championship last year.
That came at Mile One Centre in St. John’s, where Gushue beat Koe on the last shot in the last game. Since then, Gushue has won three straight games against Koe’s team, who, like Gushue, can lay claim to be being Brier and world champions.
Gushue entered Friday’s matchup with a spot in Saturday night’s semifinal (8:30 p.m. NL time, TSN) already secured.
The only question was who he’d play. Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers and Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher were playing two sheets to the right Gushue, and Carruthers needed a win to force a tie-breaker.
Alas, Bottcher, the youngest skip in the field of nine at 25, won out, by an 8-7 extra-end decision.
That means Gushue (6-2) will play another Winnipeg skip, Mike McEwen (5-3), in the semis.
Gushue beat McEwen in round-robin play 8-3 Wednesday night.
Those two skippers have a bit of history, dating all the way back to 2001 when Gushue beat McEwen 8-3 in the final of the Canadian juniors in St. Catharines, Ont.
Gushue went on to win the world juniors that year in Ogden, Utah.
Last spring at the Brier, Gushue bested McEwen 7-5 in the Page playoff at the Brier.
“I have a lot of respect for Mike,” Gushue said following the Koe tilt Friday, played in front of 7,800 Ottawa fans, the largest crowd at Canadian Tire Centre this week. “He’s definitely going to win one of these big ones, but hopefully not this week.”
This is a different Gushue team than the foursome which opened the Trials last Saturday night with a 6-4 loss to John Epping, the Toronto skip who would suffer through a 2-6 showing in Ottawa.
Like the Brier last March, Gushue started slowly in Ottawa, but has been progressing to the point where that team is now considered a favourite, despite Koe’s domination through the round-robin.
The four curlers from Newfoundland and Labrador are playing with the confidence that won them the 2017 Brier and the world championship, the latter bonspiel where they sailed through unbeaten in Edmonton.
“I feel like that when we play our best, we’re the best team in the world,” he said. “I feel we’re ready, and it’s just a matter of performing and having that game.
“It’s not a given, but if we go out and perform like we did the last couple of days, I love our chances.”
Against Koe, Gushue curled 92 per cent to Koe’s 78. As a team, the Gushue group were 90 per cent vs the 84 per cent Koe and his teammate curled.
Here in Ottawa, one can’t help but think back to Halifax a dozen years ago when Gushue, then a snot-nosed 25-year-old skip, shocked the curling world and won the Trials, beating a field that included some of the game’s greatest performers, like Kevin Martin, Jeff Stoughton, Randy Ferbey and Glenn Howard.
The only difference now, compared to then, if Gushue came into these Trials as the favourite, having dominated the World Curling Tour so far this season.
He arrived in Ottawa with a 32-5 record on the World Curling Tour, and winner of a pair of Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events.
“Back in 2005,” he said, “we got into this zone. It didn’t matter what happened around us, we were focused on one single thing.
“We went 8-1 that week,” he said of the team that included Nichols, Russ Howard and Jamie Korab, along with fifth man Mike Adam, “in an incredible field, some of the greatest to ever play. It was like, ‘Wow, we just did that?’
“There was a lot of pressure, nothing like we had experienced before. So we learned as we went.
“Similar to this week and the (2017) Brier, we started off real slow and kind of got our feet under us and went on a pretty good roll.”
Of course, Gushue and the gang went to Torino, Italy and won the Olympic gold medals, the first Canadian men’s team to do so.
So couple that experience with the pressure-cooker that was the 2017 Brier in front of the hometown fans, and these Trials seem like a cakewalk.
Even to Gallant and Walker, who weren’t around for the 2005 Olympic run.
“The pressure we felt last year was way more than this week,” Gushue said. “And we’re probably the only team that can say that coming in here. It’s a sigh of relief compared to what we felt last year, actually.
“That pressure was intense and at times uncomfortable. We feel the nerves here, we feel the jitters but this is what we’re used to feeling in Briers or Grand Slams or other big events.
“I’m not worried about those guys (his front end of Gallant and Walker). They performed well in that pressure last year, and I expect them to continue to play well in the next couple of days.”
The run at the 2005 Trials and Olympics seems like a million years ago now. It was a whirlwind time, and Gushue, looking back, regrets not taking the time to stop and experience the whole thing.
“If we’re fortunate enough to win two more games here, it’s going to mean a whole lot more to me, just because of where I am in my life and everything that I have at this point. Whereas back then, I was 25 and so singularly focused on curling that I didn’t understand the magnitude of what we did, and the significance of it, and the impact it had on the people around me.
“I’d certainly embrace that a whole lot more if we win the next two games.”
So hang on now. Is he saying a win this time around would mean more than his first? Don’t all great athletes, including Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan, acknowledge the first championship is always the sweetest?
“Geez, I haven’t won two of anything yet,” Gushue said with a hearty laugh. “Well, maybe Grand Slams. But everything else I’ve won only once. So I can’t really comment on that.
“If I’m fortunate enough to win two of them, I’ll let you know.”
When he finds his golden treasure.