Gushue's gone: New chance to represent N.L., new competition
What will the provincial curling championship look like with Brad Gushue out of the mix?
Brad Gushue's win at the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier was a huge triumph for the St. John's skip, but Gushue's team might not be the only winners from Newfoundland and Labrador.
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Gushue has long been dominant at the Newfoundland and Labrador Tankard, the tournament that determines who represents the province on the national level, winning 15 of the last 16 years. And the one year he didn't, Gushue was busy winning an Olympic gold medal.
But with Gushue and company winning the right to return to the Brier in 2018 as Team Canada, there's now a fierce competition shaping up to become Team N.L.
Competition will be fierce
Adam Boland, 23, is skip of Memorial University's Sea-Hawks curling team. The foursome lost to Gushue in the provincial final this past year and plan to be one of the teams competing at the Tankard next year.
Boland said Gushue's win will have a big impact on curling in the province and will likely make things much more competitive.
"It's going to raise the popularity of competitive curling just knowing that at the start of next season any team from the province can represent Newfoundland at the Brier next year," he said.
"It's going to be huge, it's going to be hard to get practice time — just knowing that another team can represent the province on a national stage is going to do wonders for the sport."
Just knowing that another team can represent the province on a national stage is going to do wonders for the sport.- Adam Boland
Boland said that Gushue's dominance likely deterred some teams from competing at the Tankard, but now that his reign has ended, there could be 10 or more teams competing next year.
"I've played in the provincials the last two years and it's been five and six teams, respectively, so a lot of the teams who would not have put in the effort … that'll be a goal for them next year," he said.
"Now that the chance is there, and somebody has to take advantage of that, it's really incredible. After the [Brier final] game, all the curlers were just talking and just laughing and saying how fun it's going to be next year and how excited everyone is."
Tight race to the top
Boland said there are several competitive rinks just in the St. John's area that could challenge for the provincial championship.
"There's about five or six men's teams that are all relatively close in skill level, and on any day, anyone can beat somebody else," he said.
"There's a couple teams out there, a couple younger teams and a couple teams that have been around for awhile, so it could be a young team like our team or it could be a senior's team, it's going to be really interesting."
According to Boland, the competition has also drawn interest across the country. So it's possible a team from a province rich with high-end players, like Manitoba or Alberta, will move to Newfoundland and Labrador for a shot at the Brier.
"That's been kind of a running joke, talking to people from other provinces, that if Brad ever wins, then Newfoundland's going to need another team, so they might move here," he said.
"That was one of the first things I thought of after Brad won, was how many people are going to move to the province?"
'A really good provincial'
Gushue's lead Geoff Walker was one of those players. Originally from Alberta, Walker moved to the province and has competed for Newfoundland and Labrador for the past six years, including his first Brier win this year.
Walker agreed that the provincial championship will probably be unlike any in the past decade and a half, with a wide open field of skilled teams.
"It's going to be exciting actually, to watch the process next year, watch how many teams enter, and obviously provincials is going to be very competitive," said Walker.
"There's a lot of good teams, and a lot of, I think, teams that could win it. I think it's going to be a really good provincial."
It remains to be seen who the next Team Newfoundland and Labrador will be, but one thing's clear: it won't be Brad Gushue's rink. And that will certainly make for interesting competition next winter.
With files from Peter Cowan