(by Jonathan Brazeau)
OAKVILLE, Ont. — Team Gushue is grinding it out on the curling tour even without their superstar skip calling the shots.
The St. John’s, N.L., based crew will have to do without Brad Gushue for the time being due to a hip/groin issue. While it will not require surgery, Gushue is expected to be out for the near future.
Geoff Walker (left) and Mark Nichols (right) of Team Gushue at the 2016 Elite 10 in VIctoria. (Photo: Anil Mungal)
Third Mark Nichols has moved up to the skip role for this week’s Stu Sells Oakville Tankard with Adam Spencer filling in at vice. Second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker remain in their regular front-end roles.
Nichols said the team has known about Gushue’s injury for quite some time and hope to have him back in the lineup soon.
“Brad played through quite a bit of pain towards the end of last season,” said Nichols, who won an Olympic gold medal with Gushue in 2006. “No one knew about it but he was in quite a bit of pain and he’s had a number of doctors check it out. It’s unfortunate that he’s not better yet, but we think he’s going in the right direction now that it’ll hopefully only be a couple of events and he’ll be able to get back on the ice.”
Team Gushue doesn’t have much of a choice but to charge onward without their skip. It’s a key season in the quadrennial cycle with teams looking to lock up the final guaranteed spots for the 2017 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials. While there’s always the long road through the pre-trials event — and Team Gushue should already be in good standing as one of the top-ranked teams in the world — Nichols isn’t taking anything for granted.
“Points are big now. We’d like to lock up that trial spot as early as possible, so you want to play a lot and play well,” he said. “We’re going to do what we can without him and then once he’s ready to go we’ll have the four of us back together, but our main concern now is to make sure Brad is healthy and not playing through pain.
“We want him ready for the big events — hopefully Canada Cup, provincials, Brier — those are our big events. We want to make sure he’s healthy and ready to go.”
The Tim Hortons Brier is especially important for the club this season as it’s being held in their hometown at the Mile One Centre. Even though Gushue has represented the province at the Brier 13 times in the past 14 years (the outlier being the one year he was kind of busy winning the Olympic gold medal), Nichols isn’t getting too far ahead of himself.
“I don’t want to count our eggs before they’ve hatched. We’re really excited about the possibility of playing a Brier in our hometown and our province,” Nichols said. “Obviously we have to qualify to get there but we want to make sure Brad’s healthy for that process.
“That’s our big concern right now. He could take the whole fall off if he’s going to be healthy for the winter. That’s the way we’re looking at it. Obviously it would be nice if he was here but we want to make sure he’s healthy for those big events.”
Spencer has played the “super spare” role before filling in for the injured Wayne Middaugh on Glenn Howard’s team last season and helping to power them through the Ontario Tankard and into the Tim Hortons Brier.
“We said ‘who better to get?’ He spared his way all the way to the Brier,” Nichols said with a smile. “The number of times that we played him last year he played unbelievable so we knew we were getting a great player when we asked him. It was just a matter of convincing him to play with us so we’re very fortunate to have him filling in.”
Charley Thomas joins the team for next week’s Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont., although it’s unknown at this point what role the Calgary-based skip will play in the back end.
“We haven’t really talked to him. We kind of just said ‘are you available’ and he is available so we’ll have a discussion with him,” Nichols said. “I’m totally comfortable with him throwing last rock and calling the game and me moving back to third. I’m also comfortable with him calling the game and throwing third. We’ll see how I feel here. If I feel good then I might throw the last ones there too.”
So far, so good as Team Gushue defeated Greg Balsdon’s rink from Kingston, Ont., 7-3 during their opening game of the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard on Thursday afternoon. Team Gushue next plays Friday at noon Atlantic against Howard in the A-semifinals of the triple knockout bracket.
Click to read at the Grand Slam of Curling site.