No need to panic, Brad Gushue says, Canadian curling is just fine
'There is a lot more parity now than at any other time I’ve played the game,' decorated skip says
It's approaching two years since there was all that panic, look-yourself-in-the-mirror moments and hyperbolic talk about Canada needing a curling summit in the wake of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang.
For the first time since curling returned to the Olympics in 1998, both the Canadian men's team and women's team failed to win a medal. And though the mixed doubles team won gold in the event's debut in the Games, many were saying Canadian curling was in a tailspin.
But as we hit the midway mark to the 2022 Games in Beijing, a reality check is needed.
Canadian curling is better than it's ever been. Just ask some of the curlers who have been around the game for years.
"Canada is still amazing. Those five top teams in the country are unreal," Glenn Howard said. "I love what I see in these Canadian teams. The game is really healthy here."
Howard would know. One of the country's most decorated curlers, he's battled it out on the ice for decades — Howard has four Brier titles, four world championships and 14 Slam titles. He made his first Brier appearance in 1986.
At 57 years old, Howard is still out there taking on the best in the game and says the competition has never been this strong.
"You have to be on all the time," he said. "I think there's so much parity more than ever."
On any given day, on any given sheet of ice, any curling team can win now and that means only good things for Canadian curling moving forward. Gone are the days where one or two teams dominate.
"There is a lot more parity now than at any other time I've played the game," Brad Gushue said. "It's tough. It really is tough. You don't feel like you get a break."
"We've had some games where we're curling 90 per cent and guys are curling 95 and beating us. Seven or eight years ago that wasn't the case," Gushue said.
And while winning is more elusive than ever, Gushue and Howard both agree it's pushing Canadian curling to a completely different level — and there's almost an unspoken understanding between the teams in this country that it's time to elevate their granite throwing.
"Everyone is working at the game," Howard said. "The best thing that happened for Canadian curling is the rest of the world got better. It just makes us work to get better and better."
While the skill across the game, both domestically and internationally, has never been better, the addition of the five-rock rule to curling has also contributed to the parity.
With more rocks in play there's less room to hide on the ice, making it difficult for teams to protect leads and making it easier to mount a comeback.
5-rock rule 'great for the game'
Take Thursday afternoon's game in Conception Bay South during the Slam event. Gushue fell behind 4-0 after two ends to Scotland's Ross Paterson. With a four-rock rule in the past, the game would have been over. Not anymore.
Gushue mounted a charge, scoring three in the fifth end to tie the game at 5-5 and eventually won 7-6 in an extra end.
"I hate it when I'm winning and love it when I'm losing," Gushue said of the new rule. "It's great for the game. It makes it entertaining. It definitely makes it more entertaining and you feel like you have a chance."
Teams are still trying to master their strategy on how to approach this still somewhat new world of five-rock curling. But other teams, like Brendan Bottcher's bunch from Edmonton, seem to have a strong grip on it.
"I love every second of it. The games are so much more fun to play. It's fun for the fans and at the end of the day the best team wins," Bottcher said. "And there's a lot more strategy and I'm a huge fan of that."
Bottcher, who has played in the last two Brier finals and won the last three Slam events to close out last year's season, has quickly become one of Canada's elite curling teams — but you wouldn't know it for how little attention they get.
"I'm more than happy to be underdog," Bottcher said. "For me it's not about appreciation. I'm fine with letting the big names have a target on their back for as long as they want it."
Flying under the radar is a spot Bottcher feels most comfortable. And with so many great curling teams at the top now, it's a spot he thinks he can hang around in for a while.
"I love the fact that we're not the team people are racing to talk to," Bottcher said.
A Brier win or Olympic spot for Canada would change that in a hurry. It's the goal for every Canadian team, which is now more difficult than ever.