Canada skip Gushue looks back on team meeting that put St. John’s rink in flight

Team meeting kickstarted Gushue's strong run

EDMONTON — Sometimes a loss can do wonders for a team. In Brad Gushue’s case, one defeat in particular helped propel his rink on a spectacular run.

The weight of being hometown favourites at last month’s Tim Hortons Brier in St. John’s was having an obvious effect.

Gushue’s team was noticeably flat in the early going. Normal pre-shot processes were breaking down. The top-ranked team in the country was on the verge of playing itself out of contention.

An 8-4 loss to Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories was the last straw. Gushue called a team meeting with Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker after the game.

Coach Jules Owchar said the skip was diplomatic, but pointed out something was wrong and that the focus wasn’t there.

“Everybody expressed their views, they agreed, and that was just enough,” Owchar said. “There was no finger-pointing or anything like that. The three of them knew that they had to pick it up.”

That meeting kickstarted a run of eight straight victories and gave them their first national men’s title. The momentum has carried over to this week’s Ford World Men’s Curling Championship.

Gushue won all 11 round-robin games at the Northlands Coliseum, most of them in blowout fashion. He earned the top seed for Friday night’s Page playoff 1-2 game against Sweden’s Niklas Edin.

It’s a run of stellar form that was triggered by the steps taken after the Koe loss a month ago.

“(Gushue) saved us the first four or five games (at the Brier), we could have been 1-and-4,” Owchar said. “The guys I think sort of had stage fright.”

Gushue looks back on it now as a definitive turning point. The meeting was key, as was the last stone draw before his game against Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs later that day.

“What came out of that shot, was what came out of that meeting,” Gushue said Friday.

Jacobs covered most of the pin with his throw but the Newfoundland and Labrador stone stopped just a few millimetres inside it to get hammer. A 7-5 victory followed and Gushue improved to 4-2.

“We were totally engaged on it and put it to 1.4 centimetres to win that draw to the button,” Gushue said. “I could see it in the guys after I did that — they lit up. From there on in, we were so engaged in every shot and we have been this week (too).”

The team had regained its edge. The players were no longer uptight. They started engaging with the adoring crowds at Mile One Centre instead of being worried.

The current four-man lineup — joined by alternate Tom Sallows this week — has been together almost three seasons.

Their chemistry is evident. The players are good friends on and off the ice and the camaraderie is noticeable. 

That can make things difficult for the skip, who’s usually the one to call a meeting if the team’s performance starts going sideways. 

Gushue said it was the first time a meeting like that was needed with this lineup.

“Voices were raised, it was intense,” Gushue said. “Everybody knew that we were at a turning point. We were going to go one way or the other. We put it all out on the table.”

Some feelings were hurt at the time. They would later talk things through and emerged better for it.

Everyone realized that a re-focused, re-energized approach would help them achieve their goals of winning national and world championships.

“We know that sometimes when you put it all out there and you’re honest, it may be hard initially but it’s going to pay dividends down the road,” Gushue said.

The team has been dominant at the world championship with only two games going the 10-end distance.

Gushue scored 94 points in the round-robin and gave up just 35.

“He pushes everyone around him to be better,” Nichols said. “Through his work ethic and his drive to be one of the best players in the world and be the best team in the world, it drives us to work as hard as him to get there.

“He’s really led this team down that road to putting us in a position to win a world championship this week.”

The United States and Switzerland will meet in the Page playoff 3-4 game on Saturday. The medal games are scheduled for Sunday.

———

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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