Gushue, Homan trying to finish strong at Players' Championship

Fresh off capturing world curling gold, Team Homan and Team Gushue aren't resting on their championship glory.

Both teams are in Toronto this week for the Grand Slam of Curling's Players' Championship, where the top 12 men's and women's teams are playing for a combined purse of $300,000 in the event's 25th year. (You can watch men's quarter-final action live on CBC-TV and CBCSports.ca on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET, followed by the men's final Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.)

"We're trying to muster up every bit of energy we have to play well here," said Brad Gushue, who captured his first world title on Sunday. "Outside of the Brier and the worlds, this is the biggest event in curling. There's money on the line and prestige."

Being an elite curler today means having to make serious sacrifices.

Gone are the days when club teams made their yearly push to win provincials and try for a Scotties or Brier title. This is now a year-round endeavour that has curlers spending more nights in hotels than at home.

"It's pretty much our whole life," Rachel Homan said. "There's not much else. Some of us try and sneak in a job here and there. But there's not a lot of extra time."

Homan is just weeks removed from skipping her rink to a world title. The team went undefeated to capture gold, becoming the first women's team ever to do so.

It's been a successful year for the team out of Ottawa, which started slower than normal before coming on strong to win Homan's third Scotties title and then the world championship.

"We scaled back our events in the fall. Last year we saw a bit of a burnout," Homan said.

"Not the best feeling, watching everyone pass you in points and winning events. But it's not where our focus needed to be."

Homesick?

It's been a wild and magical ride for Gushue and company over the past six weeks. They captured their first Brier title in the skip's hometown of St. John's in mid-March. Then, just days ago, Team Gushue won gold at the worlds in Edmonton.

"The Brier was so mentally, physically and emotionally draining," Gushue said. "I think we have enough in the tank to play but it certainly is a challenge."

Gushue and teammate Mark Nichols are experiencing curling's travelling road show in different ways. One is feeling right at home, while the other is missing it.

"I'm not homesick," said Gushue. "Usually at this point you're anxious to get home."

Gushue has had his wife, two daughters, mom and dad as well as other family in Edmonton and now in Toronto this week. He admits it's made a difference to have them in the crowd watching, especially when it comes to his daughters.

"It's awesome, especially for my nine-year-old. My five-year-old is probably a little too young to understand what we're doing right now. But my nine-year-old sees it. From a father's perspective, it shows her the amount of hard work I've put in. I think it's a real good life lesson for her."

As for living life on the road with dad?

"They're having a great time. My five-year-old even said to me on Sunday, that was the best vacation ever. And I went, I don't know if this is a vacation, but if you thought it was, that's great."

Nichols, meanwhile, wishes he had his wife and son beside him. In fact, these are tense times for him. Nichols and his wife, Colette, are expecting their second child any day now, and being apart has taken its toll on the Gushue team's third.

"Every time my phone dings my heart goes in my throat," Nichols said.

Nichols said he has FaceTime video calls with his two-year-old son every day, and is constantly calling and texting back home to stay in touch. As hard as it is right now, Nichols admits he's living a curling dream.

"It's not about money. We don't make enough to make a living at this. We all have other jobs. Or at least most of us do. We do it because we love it and we're really good at it."

Closing time

After this week's event in Toronto there is just one more Grand Slam bonspiel remaining before the season comes to a close. The Champions Cup takes place in Calgary in the final week of April.

Homan said there's no question her team is exhausted at this point.

"I think anyone would be lying if they said they weren't. It's definitely a long season."

The Players' Championship in Toronto is the final event this season the Homan Rink will play together. The team's second, Joanne Courtney, won the Canadian Mixed Doubles title last week in Saskatoon with partner Reid Carruthers. The world mixed championships happen at the same time as the Champions Cup in Calgary.

"We're fortunate to have these events," Homan said. "We're lucky to have the events and the Slams that we do. If you're fortunate enough to win you get to play a little more."

And while the curlers may be running out of steam, it all changes when they settle in the hack.

"When you're on the ice it's easy to forget about how tired you are," Nichols said.