A storybook ending for Brad Gushue
If I wanted to write an adventure story about curling, I couldn’t do any better than the real life story of Brad Gushue and his dream to win the Brier, the Canadian men’s curling championship.
Brad Gushue and his team of Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker are currently considered to be the best in the world. Gushue himself has won nearly every curling championship there is except for the Brier and the World Curling Federation’s world championship, which can only be entered by winning a national title. Brad, with other team members, was the first Canadian men’s team to win Olympic gold. He had a bucket list of ten things he wanted to achieve in curling. He had done nine of them and the Brier title was the only one that had eluded him.
Brad had been responsible for getting the Brier in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada’s easternmost province, in 2017.
He reached the final in the 2016 Brier but lost to Kevin Koe of Alberta. It was his second final, losing both. Though only 35 years old, St. John’s was to be his fourteenth Brier, and he had a winning record in thirteen of them. But injuries began to take their toll. In the fall of 2015, he fell on the ice, splitting his eyebrow and suffering a concussion. In that game, he left the ice, went to the ER, had the wound sutured and returned to finish the game before taking time off to recover from the concussion. Then he missed the first half of the 2016-17 season with a hip injury. He returned to finish the season, playing with pain and getting treatment for his hip after every game he curled.
During the opening ceremonies in St. John’s, all the members of his gold medal team at the 2006 Olympics were celebrated, as was the only other Brier winner from Newfoundland, who won his title before Brad was born. Mark Nichols was the only member of his curling team who had been on the team at the Olympics. Brad was so wound up he was reported to be shaking during the opening ceremonies. The whole country was expecting him to win, and the pressure of trying to do it in his hometown was tremendous.
He started off well, winning his first game and scoring 100% on his shots, almost unheard of in games at that level of competition. He then lost to the hottest team of the moment, Manitoba’s Mike McEwen. Then he reeled off three more wins. In one of the odd little sub-stories of the event, he then lost to the last-place team in the event, the Northwest Territory team of Jamie Koe. It was the only game Jamie Koe won in the event. Not to be dismayed, Brad finished the rest of the round robin undefeated, including a last-ditch win over Kevin Koe’s defending champion team.
In the playoff game between the first and second place teams, Brad beat McEwen. Two nights later he met Kevin Koe again in the final. But Brad’s lead, Geoff Walker, had hurt his shoulder and it was so painful he was unable to sweep the stones. The team had to depend upon one sweeper, though Walker was able to throw his stones. Ironically it was the Gushue team that experimented with sweeping styles and came to the conclusion that it is the sweeper closest to the stone that does the vast majority of the work. So the one person sweeping was not new to them. A number of times the skip had to come out to help, however. Walker’s injury and the fact that Gushue’s sore hip prevented him from being able to throw his stones as hard as he usually could meant that the hit game was not in the game plan. However, the team is good at the finesse game. Gushue started off with a three-point end, but Koe whittled away at the lead, and the score was tied after nine ends.
Here is where I want to comment on the sportsmanship shown by players and fans in the sport of curling. It is one of the few sports left where sportsmanship reigns. When Kevin Koe went down the ice to throw his last stone, the crowd, which had been cheering the hometown team to the rafters, quieted down so that the opponent could throw his stone without distraction. The place went silent. Koe put his stone in a place that helped block one of Gushue’s paths to the button. The crowd politely applauded the good shot. When Gushue threw his last, an in-turn that had to reach the full eight foot circle around the Koe stones, the crowd was silent, but as the stone progressed down the ice, the roar began softly, then became an ear-shattering outpouring of delight as the stone approached the rings. Gallant was sweeping with all the strength he could put onto his broom. Nichols came out to help. As the stone cleared the last of Koe’s, the whole place exploded. I’m sure the wind helped the stone reach the rings!
The players were leaping and dancing on the ice and seemed to be hugging and kissing anyone in site. As they had on the night Gushue had beaten Koe in the round robin, no one wanted to leave. They wanted to stay as long as they could, to drink it in. Gushue’s crippled team had done it at last. They were Canadian champions and on their way to the world championship. Brad Gushue could check off the last box on his bucket list.
The morning after the Brier, I picked up my paper and saw a photo of people holding a Newfie flag. Good, I thought, curling has made the front page of the Toronto Globe and Mail. But the story was not about Gushue’s spectacular win. On the same day, the musical Come From Away had opened on Broadway to an enthusiastic audience and good reviews. It is based on the true story of the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, on 9/11/2001 taking in the passengers, crews and animals on over 50 planes bound for the US that were diverted to Gander.
The small town of Gander is there because of the airport, one of the most important airports in the world. From World War II to the advent of long-range jets, Gander was the staging area for almost all the flights across the north Atlantic. It is also the home of the Air Traffic Control Centre that handles all north Atlantic air traffic, going both east and west. The coastlines all around The Rock, as Newfoundland is known, have hundreds of tiny fishing villages. Gander isn’t on the coast, but on flat inland land. But its importance may be as great as all the fishing villages put together. The town is there to serve the airport. The people of Gander, with no warning, were faced with housing, feeding and entertaining 7,000 people for several days. How they did it is the story of Come From Away.
I imagine that as I write this two days later, the parties are probably still going on all over The Rock.