Brad Gushue’s rink embracing favourite role at Olympic trials (Sportsnet)

OTTAWA — The last time Brad Gushue and his Newfoundland rink won Canada’s Olympic trials, as the veteran skip puts it, “we were younger, much more intense and much more high-strung.”

Adds third, Mark Nichols: “Whoa, man. That was so long ago!”

It was. Twelve years, to be exact, and much has changed for the once plucky underdog team who earned a berth to the Winter Games back in 2005 and went on to win Olympic gold, aside from their age.

Team Gushue skip Brad Gushue makes a shot during a draw against Team Epping at the 2017 Roar of the Rings Canadian Olympic Curling Trials in Ottawa (Justin Tang/AP)

Today, they’re the reigning world champions and the favourites here at the Roar of the Rings, which culminates next Sunday to determine which of the nine men’s and women’s teams will compete at the Olympics next February in South Korea.

“This time around, I feel if we play the way we can play, we’re gonna be there at the end of the week,” Gushue said.

On Sunday, Team Gushue took a first important step in that direction. After dropping their opener a day earlier against Toronto’s Team Epping, Gushue and his foursome of Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker moved to 1-1 with their first win, a 6-5, 11-end victory over Brendan Bottcher of Edmonton.

“It felt good,” Gushue said, with a grin, shortly after walking off the ice to cheers from the more than 5,000 fans at Canadian Tire Centre. “It was an improvement for sure.”

On his final shot in the 11th end, Gushue drew the button with an in-turn draw. As his rock eased to a halt for the win, fans cheered and clapped. And then, from the crowd: “Neeeew-found-laaaaaand!”

The team may be nearly 3,000 miles from home, but Gushue is behind only Ottawa-born Rachel Homan and her local rink when it comes to fan favourites. On the sheet beside him on Sunday, Team Homan also earned their first win to move to 1-1, and walked off to a roar from the crowd.

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