Vegas baby! Here we come!
Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker capped off a dominant week of curling, sailing to their second straight Tim Hortons Brier Canadian curling championship Sunday night with a 6-4 victory over Brendan Bottcher’s young Alberta team.
The victory came almost to the day after they won Newfoundland and Labrador’s second Brier, a 7-6, last-shot victory over Kevin Koe on March 12 of last year before 6,471 at Mile One Centre.
Koe, like Gushue this year, was wearing Team Canada’s colours.
The latest Brier win came in Regina, Sask., the same city where Jack MacDuff, Toby McDonald, Doug Hudson and Ken Templeton won the province’s first Brier back in 1976.
Team Gushue, along with fifth Tom Sallows and coach Jules Owchar, will now defend their world men’s championship March 31-April 8 in Las Vegas.
The back-to-back Brier titles puts Gushue in elite company. He joins Kevin Martin, Randy Ferbey, Pat Ryan, Don Duguid, Ron Northcott, Ernie Richardson, Matt Baldwin and Gordon Hudson as the only skips to win consecutive Briers since 1927.
“It means a lot,” Gushue told TSN when asked what the two straight Brier titles means to him. “To be on a list with those guys that have won back to back … Wow!
“What a great team I have here. We played real good. I’m very proud of my team.”
Gushue went 12-1 in Regina in a Brier that saw the skip, Nichols and Gallant all earn first-team all-star honors. Walker was a second-team all-star.
So good was Gushue in the playoffs that he curled a perfect 100 per cent in the Page playoff 1-2 game against John Epping, and 96 per cent in the final.
Those numbers made him the Hec Gervais Award winner as MVP.
Up 5-4 with hammer in the 10th end, Gushue was facing one Bottcher stone with his last rock and needed a piece of the button for the win.
Gushue calmly stepped in the hack, and dropped his stone on the pin.
“I was just hoping to have a draw, an open draw, and fortunately I got it,” he said before adding with a smile, “that makes up for last year when I only got eight foot.”
Gushue was alluding to last year’s final shot which had to be dragged to the eight foot by sweepers Gallant and Nichols, just past Koe’s rock.
Competing in his 15th Brier, despite being only 37, Gushue became the all-time winningest skip in Brier history this week, surpassing Hall of Famers Russ Howard and Kevin Martin, who were tied with 113 wins.
Sunday’s victory was Gushue’s 122nd in the Canadian championship.
Gushue and Co. lost only one game in Regina over the past 10 days, and ironically enough that came to Bottcher by a 10-7 count.
Dating back to last season, when he was 11-2 in St. John’s, Gushue is 23-3 in the past two Briers.
At the world championship in Edmonton last year, Gushue ran the table at 13-0 to become the first skip in history to win a world junior title, Olympic gold medal, Brier and world championship.
Gushue advanced to Sunday’s final with a 6-2 win over Epping. Epping then faced Bottcher’s Edmonton foursome in the semifinal where the Toronto rink came up short again, this time by a 6-4 decision.
Gushue has said all week his team curled pressure-free, after going through last year’s meat-grinder of curling at home, and trying to win the elusive Brier championship.
“I can’t emphasize enough,” he told reporters, “how different this felt from last year, and how freely we played. It was fun.”
With the win, Team Gushue receives $62,000 in prize money. If the team reaches the podium in Vegas, it will be invited to participate at the 2019 Continental Cup as part of Team North America.
The win also means Gushue and Co. will return to the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier in Brandon, Man., as Team Canada, meaning Newfoundland — whose provincial representative in Regina was Greg Smith’s rink — will have two entries in the Canadian championship for a second straight year.