Brad Gushue's goal for 2018: Win (another) one for mom
ST. JOHN'S — This year's Brier was about so much more than curling.
With Newfoundland and Labrador hosting the Canadian men's championship for the first time in 45 years, the tournament became a symbol of provincial pride for the people here.
Brad Gushue knew it. And he made sure to send them off with one big party.
After the St. John's skip captured his first Brier title — and the first for his province since 1976 — with a nailbiting 7-6 win over defending champion Kevin Koe on Sunday night at the Mile One Centre, the celebration in the Brier Patch spilled into Monday morning.
Thousands of people danced wildly, waved Newfoundland and Labrador flags and rewatched Gushue's final shot — a clutch draw into the eight-foot to score the decisive point — over and over on the big screens. They cheered just as loudly as the first time they saw it.
Finally, just before 2 a.m. local time, Gushue and his teammates — Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker — took the stage alongside family and friends.
The teammates raised their beers to the crowd, thanking them for what they called the best Brier ever.
Gushue then picked up the Brier Tankard and passed it to the throng of fans. For the next 15 minutes the trophy crowd-surfed around the Patch.
"I've been close so many times," said Gushue, 36, whose 13 previous Brier appearances had produced a pair of runner-up finishes, including one last year. "To finally win it and win it at home, you couldn't have asked for a better story."
The story really began last June, inside the Merchant Tavern on Water Street in downtown St. John's. Gushue says the team spent 16 hours over the course of two days mapping out the road to capturing their first Brier title at home.
Despite injuries — including a troublesome hip for Gushue — and ups and downs throughout the season, the team was able to write its last chapter in dramatic fashion.
"I'm so proud of the team and so proud of how we stuck to the plan," said Gushue, who finally has a Brier title to go with his Olympic gold medal from 2006 and will try for his first world championship next month in Edmonton.
Raymond Gushue could barely contain himself after his son won the Brier.
Wearing a t-shirt that proudly proclaimed him "Brad's Dad," Raymond was teary-eyed as Brad hoisted the Tankard.
"We've been waiting a long time for it," Raymond said. "Finally it happened at home."
When his son settled into the hack for the decisive moment of the tournament, Raymond said he felt confident because he'd seen Brad make that draw thousands of times.
"I was thinking to myself, do what you do. That is your bread-and-butter shot," Raymond said.
When the rock, after a few nervy seconds and some heavy sweeping by Nichols and Gallant, finally slid fully into the eight-foot to seal the win, it sent the capacity crowd, and Brad's dad, into a frenzy.
For Raymond, the victory was extra-special knowing how much pressure rested on his son's shoulders.
"We deserve to go crazy after all the years of hard work and losing in the finals," he said. "Cinderella story for the whole week."
Brad's status as the belle of the ball rubbed off on his dad too.
"If I ran for mayor, I bet I'd win this week," Raymond said. "I've shook so many hands and so many people came over and congratulated me and my wife so many times. You couldn't even walk five feet and someone wanted to talk to you. It was so nice."
Lucky loonie, Newfoundland style
Gushue didn't know it at the time of his final throw, but about five feet from where he pushed out of the hack, underneath the carpet and boards, rested an old Newfoundland 50-cent piece.
During the setup of the event, a local curler who was helping with the ice came up with the idea of burying a lucky coin beneath the playing surface.
"We were originally going to put [coins] behind the hack on each sheet," said Evan Kearly, who plays on a team that lost to Gushue in the provincial playdowns. "But the main ice-maker said we couldn't do it."
But Kearly and another member of the ice crew weren't going to be denied the opportunity of lending a little luck to the home side, so they tucked away the 1919 Newfoundland coin where no one could see it.
"We were putting down the carpet and we were like, screw it, we're going to put it in anyway," Kearly said. "We stuck it at the back of the B sheet because we knew this was the sheet the final would be played on.
"Maybe that extra bit of luck is all they needed."
The 50-cent piece belongs to Gushue now.
"I got it in my pocket," he said with a smile. "Not sure what I'll do with it yet but it's pretty special."
Gushue played an integral part in bringing the Brier to St. John's. As much as he relished the potential of winning a championship at home, Gushue's hope was that the event would create a legacy in the community and foster a new wave of curlers in his province.
He said other curlers remarked at how much younger the crowd seemed at the Mile One Centre, and how inspiring that was to see.
One of them Nichols, who grew up in Labrador City and badly wants this Brier to ignite a curling spirit he felt early in life.
"I really hope this is a shot in the arm for Newfoundland and Labrador curling," Nichols said.
Perhaps, among the thousands in the stands who witnessed the team's thrilling, historic victory on Sunday night, was the next Brad Gushue.
"I think there are going to be a lot of young boys and girls that leave here dreaming about winning a Brier or a Scotties," said the triumphant skip.