St. John's rolls out red carpet to celebrate Team Gushue's historic run
ST JOHN'S — In an overfilled room of fans at the historic Bally Haly Country Club, local band, The Navigators, played the now famous Team Gushue entrance song, The Islander.
People clapped and cheered in unison awaiting the arrival of their local heroes on Wednesday night.
Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker walked into the room, basking in the glow of returning to the club it all started in, now crowned Brier and world champions.
"It's humbling to see them all come out and support us," said Gushue.
Not far from where people gathered for dinner sits the four curling sheets of ice the team has spent countless hours on perfecting their game over the past three years. After the Brier win, the club renamed the sheets from 1, 2, 3, 4 to Walker, Gallant, Nichols. Gushue.
Throughout the evening stories and speeches were shared, including from a member of the last and only Brier team to win for Newfoundland and Labrador, Toby MacDonald.
There was also a story told about the moment Gushue decided to give up hockey for curling.
"I came home and Brad and his mom were sitting there," recalled father Ray Gushue. "And Brad said, 'mom, you tell him.' And she said 'Brad is done with hockey. He doesn't want to play anymore.'"
Never looked back
Brad Gushue was 13 years old, and from that point on, never looked back. Ray Gushue admits he wasn't the biggest curling fan in the early days. That's all changed.
In a little more than a month the Gushue Rink has captured a Brier and world title. The Gushue Gala was a quickly planned event in St. John's to not only honour the team for its accomplishments, but also to grow the game in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"That would be the legacy I'd like to leave," Brad Gushue said.
"The wins are great but if 10 to 15 years from now the clubs in this province are thriving, I'd like to say I had a part in it."
But for now, the four men on the team are still trying to wrap their heads around what's just happened.
What it all means to Team Gushue
"I've sat and thought about it and it's just amazing to be able to know that you're a Brier champion having grown up and watching it as a kid," said team lead Geoff Walker, from Beaverlodge, Alta.
For second Brett Gallant, the club was a fitting place to be celebrating all of their accomplishments.
"I came here from P.E.I., five years ago and the second I walked through these doors I was welcomed with open arms. It feels like home. I couldn't ask for anything more the way they took Geoff and I in. It's pretty special."
Then there's longest serving teammate of Gushue, third Mark Nichols.
He admits to being on the roller-coaster ride of his life.
"The last eight weeks has been a whirlwind. To couple it all in expecting our second child, throwing everything else in with it has been an unbelievable start to 2017."
He's won a lot alongside Gushue. But this is different now for Nichols.
"Two days after the Brier, myself and Colette [his wife] had a moment before we went and picked up our little guy from daycare. We just sat back said 'holy crap, can you believe we're Brier champs?'" said Nichols.
"And then I pick up my son at daycare and he says, 'daddy, you're a Brier champ,'. Those little moments mean a lot.
Deeply personal story
Gushue shared a deeply personal story about a dark time where he thought curling was no longer in his future.
"I said to my wife, 'I'm done. I don't want to play anymore,'" Gushue said.
"I was done. I didn't throw rocks for a week. I was going to finish out the year and then figure out what I was going to do."
It was during an event five years ago in Moose Jaw, Sask., the early days of this new iteration of Team Gushue. Mark Nichols wasn't on the team at this point and they went into the event and lost all seven games. Gushue said it wasn't even close and he was frustrated beyond belief.
"I was at point in my career where I was ready to win," Gushue said. "We had a team that was rebuilding though. My mentality wasn't there at that point and I struggled with it."
Gushue went home after that event and was serious about quitting curling.
"I was just being a sore loser. I wasn't used to losing in that fashion."
All these years later, Gushue looks back at that time and has learned a lot from those trying times. And he admits that it was a matter of taking "some lumps" that's allowed this team to reach the level of success it's seeing now.
"We molded this team that we have over five years and Mark over the last three. I think that's why we work so well together because that's where we started. We grew as a team."
Gushue's 1st coach
In the crowded room of supporters sat Ron Buckley, Brad Gushue's first-ever coach.
"Brad always says to me, 'you were my first coach.' I'm 92 now."
Buckley has curled for 55 years. It's been a lifelong pursuit of building up the sport in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"I started the junior program down at St. John's Club. I started with 50 kids and I built it up to 200," said Buckley.
"I met Brad when he was 13. He was one of the first 50."
Buckley remembers how focused Gushue was in the earliest of curling days and how much time he spent studying the game.
"He was so interested and dedicated even at an early age. None of this is surprising to me.
"He said I watch TV all the time, watching curling. And this is how I learned to play the game. And now everyone loves watching him."