Brad Gushue made a routine takeout on his last shot of the inaugural Everest Curling Challenge Sunday night in Fredericton to capture the single-largest curling cash prize ever of $200,000.
A capacity crowd inside Willie O'Ree Place erupted as Lisa Weagle, E.J. Harnden, Cathy Overton-Clapham and Gushue celebrated the win.
"I was pretty pumped to win this and make that last shot," Gushue said. "The whole team played well all week and it would have been a sin for me to miss that."
Gushue has been in these pressure-packed situations before.
"That shot was a little easier than the shot I threw to win the Brier, I can tell you that," Gushue said. "The thought runs through your mind though when you're throwing for that much money but I was able to zero in."
As for what Gushue will do with his $50,000?
"The way my wife spends it, it will come in handy," he laughed.
A game of inches
The three-day summer bonspiel was a first of its kind, bringing 32 of Canada's top curlers together for the event. All eight teams were then separated, leaving four male and four female skips to draw their own teams.
John Epping, whose team was voted in by fans, skipped Kaitlyn Lawes, Brent Laing and Rachel Brown who battled Team Gushue throughout, tying the game in the 7th at 5-5 as the teams came to the final end.
On Epping's last throw, his rock slid just a few inches too far, allowing Gushue the easy takeout to win on his last shot. Epping says it could have been a lot different if it stopped a little earlier.
"Another six inches higher he either has to throw the double or draw. And that was a tough draw at that point in the game," Epping said.
"The atmosphere was electric. We just kept getting better throughout all the games. This was fun."
Early on in the game, Harnden experienced some equipment issues. The slider on his shoe fell off causing a stoppage in play as he had to go to the dressing room to find another one.
"This hasn't ever happened," he laughed. "And as much as I didn't want it to get into my head, I think it did a little. I wasn't all that impressed with my performance after that."
And all that money?
"Maybe I'll be able to buy a new pair of shoes."
Overton-Clapham credits a lot of the team's success to the way they were able to communicate throughout the bonspiel.
"I think we were all on the same page and communicated every end and every shot. Lisa made sure we were on cue and talking," she said. "We worked really well out there."
Despite jumping out to an early 3-1 lead and being in control of the first part of the game, Epping battled back with two straight steals to tie the game 3-3 after five ends. Weagle says that's when the team leaned on their past big game experience to battle the adversity.
"We're all intense players. We've all been in stressful championship situations. We all knew we had experience to draw on," she said. "I have so much respect for all three of them. We had fun on and off the ice this week."
Summer ice conditions
Head icemaker Jamie Bourassa thought this summer bonspiel would be somewhat of a walk in the park compared to past Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Briers.
"I was so looking forward to one sheet, little three day spiel, but boy it was a lot of work with the heat in the building."
The Willie O'Ree Place does not have air conditioning making Bourassa's job extremely difficult with summer heat pouring down on the building outside. Throw in the capacity crowd and bright lights and Bourassa says it was a recipe for disaster.
"This was probably the hottest arena I've worked in," he said. "There's not a lot of time to fix things. When it starts going south it goes quick. I was monitoring the ice every half end."
While there was frost buildup and even some "hot spots" where the ice was melting, the players had nothing but praise for Bourassa.
"Jamie did an unbelievable job this week. Not easy at all," said Epping.
Gushue added his voice to that praise.
"The ice was good. I think the biggest thing was early in the season you're not sharp. It was hard to be really precise," Gushue said.
For many, this was the earliest start to a curling season in their careers. And for many, the beginning of one of the most important seasons in their careers with Olympic Trials just a few months away. If anything, this summer bonspiel got the competitive juices flowing for the athletes.
"I don't think you could ask for a better way to start the year. Even though we haven't thrown many rocks, this exceeded our expectations," Harnden said.