(by Jonathan Brazeau)
Who was more nervous during the Boost National last year: Team Gushue or their fans?
Skip Brad Gushue and his St. John’s crew were the local favourites at the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event in Conception Bay South, N.L., with a packed house on hand, but they got off to a rocky start and took a detour through the tiebreakers for the first time in a long time. To make matters worse Team Gushue had to face Team Schwaller, who got the better of them during the opening draw of pool play and were poised to play spoilers again. Oh me nerves, indeed.
Brad Gushue delivers a rock during the Masters men’s final on Oct. 28, 2019, in North Bay, Ont. (Anil Mungal)
Although Team Gushue emerged victorious in the rematch to qualify for the playoffs, their woes remained with their run ending in the quarterfinals to Team Mouat.
Time for take two. Gushue is hopeful things will work out better in the encore when the elite series returns to CBS Arena next week for the 2019 edition of the Boost National.
“We just weren’t playing really solid and I think put a lot of pressure on ourselves as we do in those events where we’re playing at or near home,” Gushue said. “I think the combination of being a little bit off and putting that pressure, it made it a real challenge.
“It was still a great experience for us, we had a ton of fun. We’re looking forward to playing our best this year or certainly putting in a better effort than we did last year. I think we’re going to be a little more relaxed going into it this year and hopefully, that will turn into a better performance.”
Quarterfinals, in general, were a roadblock for the 11-time Grand Slam champion Gushue last season. His team has overcome that this year, however, now it’s the championship games where they’ve run into trouble. Gushue finished runner-up at the first couple of GSOC events falling to Matt Dunstone’s team at the Masters in North Bay, Ont., and Brad Jacobs’ crew at the KIOTI Tractor Tour Challenge in New Glasgow, N.S.
“The finals are now our nemesis with back-to-back losses but if you’re getting to the finals you’re playing well, you’re giving yourselves opportunities,” Gushue said. “As much as we want to win, there is a little bit of luck involved with the events. You can play really well and Brad Jacobs made a couple of shots that were — I don’t want to say were low percentage but — lower percentage that if we play that game again he may not make and we may win that game, so there’s a little bit of luck involved.
“You’ve just got to keep putting yourself in that position week after week and eventually, you’ll get one. That’s kind of the perspective we’re taking. I think if you look at North Bay when we lost in the final, I had a poor performance in that game and Matt made some great shots. In New Glasgow, we had a couple of players that had an off-game and Brad Jacobs made a lot of really great shots. We get ourselves in that position again, I’m confident that we’re going to be able to put one of our better games together. Hopefully, it turns into a win but I’m proud to have gotten to two finals again and given ourselves a chance.”
Was there anything actually wrong with the team last season or was it just the randomness of bad luck? Gushue said they have made some changes to their support team and how they prepare for tournaments but also chalks it up to a bit of the latter.
“We’ve also got a few more breaks this year than we had all of last year combined, so it’s a little bit of both,” Gushue said. “I think we’ve certainly played better this year than what we did at any point last year but we’ve also got some breaks and maybe that playing better creates those breaks. Maybe it’s the breaks that help you play better and free you up.
“I’m not sure which is the cart and which is the horse but either way there is a little bit of both. I think we’ve done some right things and hopefully, we can continue. We’re still not back or we don’t feel like we’re all the way back to where we were at our peak, but we certainly feel like we’re trending in that direction.”
The Boost National follows a two-event road trip out west with the team competing in the Ashley HomeStore Curling Classic in Penticton, B.C., and the Canada Cup in Leduc, Alta. Now they’re home for the holidays looking to deliver an early Christmas present in the form of the Boost National trophy.
“To come home after that and really be home through this event and also through Christmas is nice,” Gushue said. “To have that stretch and to play against top competition on great ice in essentially your hometown, your home community, we’re pretty fortunate.”
“We love playing in front of family and friends and supporters,” he added. “It’s nice for us — for a team that has to travel as much as we do — to not have to hop on an airplane to play in an event, so we’re excited to get going.”
Gushue kicks off the Boost National taking on Scott McDonald’s team Tuesday night.
NOTES: The Boost National is the third event and second major of the 2019-20 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season featuring 15 of the top men’s teams and 15 of the top women’s teams from around the world. … A $300,000 combined purse is on the line with the winners receiving $35,000 each plus berths to the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup in Olds, Alta. … Teams also earn points towards the Pinty’s Cup awarded to the season champions following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April.