Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.
A world champion curling skip doesn’t qualify for the largest event in his country, but desperately wants to be part of it. Out of the blue, when it looked like all hope was lost, the skip gets a call from an opposing team, with the invitation to join forces for the largest bonspiel of the season.
The skip won’t actually play, but can join the team to help in any way, reading rocks and ice, cheerleading, lending a voice of expertise.
In 2005, that story played itself out with Russ Howard being the world champ without a place to play at Canada held its men’s Olympic curling trials. Brad Gushue’s rink had qualified for the trials, and invited Howard to join as the team’s fifth man.
Of course, as any Newfoundland sports fan knows, Howard didn’t stay on the sideline. Gushue moved him into the lineup in place of Mike Adam, and the team’s fortunes took off. Gushue — with legendary Russ Howard throwing second stones but calling the game as skip — and his rink won the curling trials, represented Canada at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, and captured the gold medal there.
Now, Gushue is hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, by joining Kevin Martin’s Edmonton rink as the fifth man at the Roar of the Rings curling trials beginning Sunday in Winnipeg.
In early November, Gushue lost to Brier winner Brad Jacobs for the final spot at the Roar of the Rings curling trials. It was quite the setback, considering he had played in the A, B and C finals, losing each time.
The disappointment will undoubted linger for Gushue and his team of Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker and Adam Casey, although Gushue’s hurt was tempered with the invitation from long-time rival Martin.
"I was honoured that they asked me because they are one of the best teams in the world,” Gushue told CBC following the invitation, just two days after his team was eliminated. “They had a lot of people that they could’ve chosen, and to be selected was quite nice.”
The difference in the two situations right now is that Gushue is adamant he is not playing. He’s the teams’ fifth man, a guy who can help read rocks and ice, offer some guidance — having won this very event in 2005 — and help at the Olympics, should Martin be the winner.
My understanding is that Russ Howard was brought in as a fifth-man in 2005 too. He wouldn’t play, but help in any other way he could. And while it’s not the way Gushue wanted to be invited to Winnipeg, the fact he’s there is enough for now.
'Kind of bittersweet'
"It’s kind of bittersweet," Gushue told CBC News last month. "You’d prefer to be going [by] skipping your own team, but once we got knocked out, it’s hard to pass up another opportunity to go to another Olympics [and] to play with a team that had the run that they’ve had over the last seven or eight years."
Martin’s lineup is a tough one to break, with the addition of Dave Nedohin this season. Nedohin replaced John Morris, who left after last season. (Those teams face each other, by the way, in the event’s final draw. Curling always does have great scheduling!) The front end of Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert are as solid a sweeping duo as you’ll find, and Gushue readily admits sweeping is not his forte.
So the Newfoundland skip with the gold medal from 2006 may not get to play in this event at all. But just being there may be enough to help the competitive juices that flow in his veins.
Say what you want about Gushue, and many have, he’s first and foremost a competitive curler. He changed the thinking of Newfoundland teams, even though nobody followed his lead of playing full time on the World Curling Tour.
There’s no doubt he can bring something to the Martin rink, even though this team is the defending Olympic gold medallist, having won in Vancouver in 2010.
I can tell you this: there’s no doubt Gushue is much happier being in Winnipeg this week than he is sitting at home watching these games on TV.
Whether his contribution is enough to get him a trip to Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympics remains to be seen. But at least he’s got a front row seat to the action.
Follow Don on Twitter at @PowerPlay27