(By Jonathan Brazeau)
Jason Gunnlaugson has recruited Adam Casey to throw second stones for his squad next season.
Gunnlaugson was in the market for a new second after Denni Neufeld decided to step back and dedicate more time towards his family and his real estate business, The Neufeld Group.
Adam Casey in action at the 2015 Meridian Canadian Open in Yorkton, Sask. (Anil Mungal)
Canadian teams are allowed one out-of-province player and the PEI native Casey will be the designated import alongside Winnipeg-based Gunnlaugson, third Alex Forrest and lead Connor Njegovan.
“We were just looking for somebody who had the experience to play at the level that we’ve been playing at and want to play at, so he’s kind of a natural fit,” Gunnlaugson said. “He has some experience at second with (Brad) Gushue, which is obviously one of the best places you can learn the game from and tons of success as a skip, so we think he’ll bring some good opinions to that side of the game as well. I think he was at a point where he was looking for a team that maybe wanted to commit a little bit more and we fit that nicely.”
Casey has competed in the Brier six times for three different provinces throwing second for Gushue’s Newfoundland and Labrador team from 2012-14, skipping his own P.E.I. club in 2015 and 2016 and guiding Saskatchewan in 2017. He played third for skip Charley Thomas in Ontario this past season.
Gunnlaugson hasn’t played with an import before, however, Casey’s willingness to compete just about anywhere and his determination to excel were attractive traits.
“We obviously had a pretty exhausting search as far as just who would be a good fit, who had the talent to do it and who had the drive to put in the effort. That’s one of the things we saw with Adam,” Gunnlaugson said. “We also like the fact that he had played as an import before and we had seen him playing well as an import. Obviously, you’re going to be working together as much as possible but if he did have to be on his own for a while in parts of the year, we knew he was still going to be ready and prepared to perform because we’ve seen that in the past.”
Neufeld, who won seven Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling titles with Mike McEwen before joining Gunnlaugson last year, believes they’ve found the right player to fill his shoes.
“I’ve always respected Adam Casey as a player,” Neufeld said. “I think he’s a good guy. He seems like he’s probably pretty easy-going and easy to get along with. I think he’ll relate well with those guys. I think with what was on the table that was probably the best fit.”
Team Gunnlaugson, ranked 17th in the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit, sat down after their season ended to discuss their goals for the future. With the team looking to play in more events in order to surge the standings, Neufeld knew how hard they’d have to work and the commitment level proved to be too much for him.
“I know it’s really hard on my family when I’m gone so much and I think for these guys in order to get to the level that I would want to be at, they need and want to play more and that doesn’t really work for me,” Neufeld said. “They’re thinking of playing like 14 events before Christmas or something like that and that’s just too much for me. …
“It was a really tough decision for me because the guys — Gunner, Connor and Alex — are amazing human beings and I had a lot of fun playing with them. Our dynamic I felt was really, really good. I enjoyed being a part of helping them try to put some systems in place to reach the next level regarding sports psychology, fitness, nutrition and stuff like that; Things that I brought to the team that they weren’t doing previously. They’re all going in the right direction and they work so hard. They work harder than anybody that I’ve ever seen. They put in the time, they put in the effort and they’re going to be really good, they’re just not quite at that time right now.”
Gunnlaugson said he’s hoping to call upon Neufeld to sub if need be. They’ll also continue to keep close ties off of the ice with Njegovan joining Neufeld’s real estate team recently.
“We’re finding more and more in this day and age, people need somebody that’s reliable of high quality that they can call on in a pinch because players are getting hurt more, just like wear and tear injuries, and as the season gets longer and longer, it’s definitely good to have some people like that,” Gunnlaugson said. “We used Matt Wozniak once this year for that and he did a lot of sparing. I think Denni may have a season more similar to that but still able to keep a lot more close to home and commit more time to his business interests.”
Neufeld is looking at several different avenues of where to take his curling career as he’s not ready to retire yet.
“I told the guys if you’re playing such a hectic schedule and one guy can’t make it for that many events, I’ll be open to coming in and playing a couple of events a year, just one-offs kind of like what Woz did this year,” Neufeld said. “My wife and I have also talked about maybe getting into the mixed doubles portion of it, so there are a lot of directions it could go. I wouldn’t be closing the door on the right opportunity with a different men’s team but I’m not actively looking to get on a team either.”
Neufeld will get a head-start on his “super spare” role as he will fill in for lead Ben Hebert on Kevin Koe’s club for the Curling World Cup Grand Final next week in Beijing.