Thanks to a $400,000 upgrade at the St. John's Curling Club, ice sheets are in and preparation for the most important season of curling in Newfoundland and Labrador since 2006 is underway.

The club overhauled its ice-making equipment, ensuring it would be ready for an expected influx of curlers after the city hosted the Tim Hortons Brier in March — a tournament won by the hometown heroes, Team Gushue.

The win also earned Brad Gushue the chance to wear the Team Canada jersey, meaning Newfoundland and Labrador's spot in the 2018 Brier is up for grabs.

"We've got a lot of very strong teams that are going to be in provincials," said club president John Sheppard. "It's going to be very exciting to see a new representative crowned after all these years."

gushue-brad

Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue reacts after defeating Team Canada 7-6 to win the Brier curling championship last March. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Gushue has represented the province at the Brier 14 times. He last missed the Brier in 2006 — because he was busy winning an Olympic gold medal.

Young team in mix to replace Gushue

One of the top contenders to win the provincial tankard in January is Adam Boland and his squad of young curlers.

Team Boland represented Memorial University last year, finishing the season with a 17-0 record and a national championship.

The only game they lost last winter was against Brad Gushue, in the provincial finals.

"You knew he was going to win," Boland told CBC News with a laugh.

Adam Boland

Zach Young and Adam Boland won the national university title last season. This year, they'll be in the hunt for a Brier with a Gushue-less provincial tankard. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

With Gushue out of the mix, the path to the Brier has never been more realistic. The Boland squad has spent the offseason working hard in the gym, following in the fitness footsteps of past champions like Gushue and Brad Jacobs.

But the former MUN Sea-Hawks aren't the only team in the mix for the provincial championship.

Zach Young, who throws second stones for Boland, says there are at least three other teams at their club capable of competing on the national stage.

But due to the geographic disadvantage of being on an island on the absolute easternmost tip of Canada, not everyone can afford to travel out of province for big tournaments.

gushue-team-flag-1180

The hunt is now on in Newfoundland and Labrador, where curling teams will compete to replace Team Gushue as provincial champions and play at the Tim Hortons Brier. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

That's why Boland and Young began looking for sponsorships during the offseason — so they can dedicate themselves wholly to curling.

"As soon as the season starts next week, that's our life until January, and everyone on our team knows that," Boland said.

Brier changed landscape for N.L. curling

In the days after Brad Gushue's historic win at last year's Brier, the St. John's Curling Club hosted an open house.

Normally, they'd expect around 75 people to show up to try the sport. What they ended up with was more than 200, the majority of whom were children.

St. John's Curling Club

The St. John's Curling Club had to adopt new practice guidelines, in anticipation of an influx of interest this year. (CBC)

"It's done a lot to grow the sport, and a lot of new curlers are trying it for the first time," Boland said. "The community around curling in Newfoundland is something that's expanding and increasing all the time."

A study by the Candian Sport Tourism Association reports there was an economic spinoff of $10.1 million to the province from the Brier last March, with $9.1 million spent directly in St. John's.

John Sheppard and the St. John's Curling Club will look to capitalize on Newfoundland's newfound infatuation with the sport.

The club has a steady membership but is always looking to get more kids involved in the game.

"Brad Gushue came through this junior curling program," he said. "Based off the exposure that was gained from the Brier, we want to see a strong junior curling program."

The club will be hosting another open house on Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for youth, and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for all comers.

Admission is free to anyone looking to give the sport a try — whether you want to be the next Brad Gushue, or just find a new hobby to pass the long Newfoundland and Labrador winter.

With files from Here and Now