'I really believe we're ready': Brad Gushue eyes 1st Brier title

ST. JOHN'S — He stood at the end of the arena a little longer on Friday night.

Brad Gushue looked out into the crowd after defeating Manitoba to clinch a spot in Sunday's Brier final, smiling.

Cheers rained down for longer than usual. People didn't want to leave. Gushue soaked up every second, basking in it all.

"The older you get the more you enjoy moments like this," Gushue, 36, said. "Just seeing the amount of fans that stuck around for a couple songs. It was pretty cool."

Gushue wanted so badly for his hometown of St. John's to host the Brier championship again. That happened.

The people of Newfoundland and Labrador so badly wanted Gushue's rink to play in the championship game. That also happened.

Now there's just one more game standing in the way of a storybook ending. It's a rematch of last year's final, with Gushue facing defending champion Kevin Koe, a three-time Brier winner.

"I don't believe in any destiny or anything special," he said. "We're ready. I really believe we're ready. Whether we win or not, I'm not sure, but it won't be because we're not ready."

Gushue has played in the Brier 14 times. He's never won a national championship. He's been close. Last year he lost in the final against Koe's rink out of Calgary. But with an entire province on his side today, Gushue knows the time is now to win his first Brier title.

"When I was 25 I thought I was going to win a bunch of these, but I realize it's a harder game over the last number of years."

When Gushue was 25, he etched himself into the hearts and minds of many in Newfoundland and Labrador by capturing Olympic gold. Now he's reflecting on that experience as he heads in to arguably the biggest curling game in the province's history.

"Someone asked me the question, how does this compare to the Olympics," said Gushue. "I said it was probably just as good or better, just because I'm older now and I appreciate it."

'It'd be a dream come true'

Newfoundland and Labrador's third, Mark Nichols, has spent nearly every season of his curling career throwing stones with Gushue. He was born and raised in Labrador City and knows what this all means to the people of this province. It also means everything to him.

"All of us have grown up watching the Brier and dreaming of winning it," Nichols said. "It'd be a dream come true."

Nichols was also a part of that 2006 Olympic gold-medal winning team and knows what it takes to win at the highest level. Much like Gushue, Nichols feels a sense of urgency to finally get that elusive Brier title.

"The chance to win, you have to take advantage of it. We've been in the final before and have been on the wrong side of it," Nichols said.

Throughout the entire week Nichols has played some of the best curling of his career. The crowd has responded to his superb shot making, roaring their approval after most of his shots. It's made a difference for the team.

"It's just unbelievable," Nichols said. "We're feeding off of them and they're feeding off of our emotion. It kind of snowballs and when we get going you can just feel it."

Brier legacy

Only one other time has the Brier been held in St. John's. That came in 1972. And only one other time has a team from Newfoundland and Labrador won the championship. That came in 1976 in Regina when the team skipped by Jack MacDuff won it all.

He's a curling legend in the province. So is Gushue. And it's Gushue's hope that having the Brier in St. John's all these years later will inspire a new wave of curlers in the province.

"This Brier here has done a lot for the sporting community and certainly the curling community in St. John's," Gushue said.

"I think that's the impact. I don't think it's our performance. It's the show and having 6,000 people show up three times a day for eight days."

Gushue says whatever happens tonight in the championship game, everyone on the Rock has already won because of Canada's curling treasure being back in St. John's.

"It's been incredible. We've exposed the game to a lot of people. Hopefully we have a plan in place to capitalize on this."