With Brier on the line, Gushue and teammates gave it their best shot

It took a lot of effort, but members of Newfoundland and Labrador rink combined for a last-rock win


Published on March 13, 2017

Team Newfoundland and Labrador's Brad Gushue (left) and Geoff Walker (second from left) shout as sweepers Mark Nichols and Brett Gallant bring the Gushue's fnal shot of the 10th end into the rings to win the 2017 Tim Hortons Brier at Mile One Centre Sunday night. Newfoundland defeated Team Canada 7-6. Looking on are Team Canada skip Kevin Koe (back left) and third Marc Kennedy (back right).

©Keith Gosse/The Telegram

The easy description would be the shot heard round Newfoundland, but the truth is the shot itself didn’t make that much noise, only about 24 seconds of the sound of granite scraping along pebbled ice — something akin to a studded tire on pavement.

The noise was what surrounded the shot.
There was Brad Gushue’s voice as the Newfoundland and Labrador skip exhorted those sweeping the stone… and there was the noise from the stands at Mile One Centre.
The latter began with the murmurs that came from the collective, reinforced realization of what was at stake — Newfoundland’s first Brier Canadian men’s curling championship in more than four decades, only the province’s second of all time and the first for Gushue after 13 previous attempts, including 2016, when he and his teammates had lost the Brier final to the same four men who faced them on this night.
But this time, the matchup was at Mile One, where over nine days, Gushue and Co. had enjoyed true home-ice advantage, maybe more than had ever been experienced by any team in Brier history.
Those murmurs bled over into supportive applause as Gushue made his way to the hack at the south end of the ice surface. Then it became quiet, except for a sort of buzz that comes with mass hyperventilation, and stayed pretty much that way as Gushue released his attempt at a winning draw.
There is no point in further dramatic description. It would be the rare person in this province — even those poor souls still left without power after Saturday’s wind storm — who do not now know that Gushue’s draw attempt was successful, that he, longtime third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker defeated Kevin Koe and defending champion Team Canada 7-6 to join Jack MacDuff’s 1976 rink as Newfoundland’s only Brier winners.
But for the record, here’s how it happened Sunday night at Mile One.
First the setup.
Halfway through the game, it looked like victory might come easy for Newfoundland; Gushue had a 5-1 lead on Koe at the break. But the Team Canada skip from Calgary made like a drayhorse, hitching up his team and hauling them back into the contest, scoring three with a brilliant final-rock triple in the sixth end, and getting a steal in seven to tie it. The teams traded singles with hammer in the eighth and ninth ends, although the latter proved a little dicey for Newfoundland.
It took a great shot by Gushue with his last rock of the end to pick out and dispatch a Team Canada counter that was just peeking out from behind a cluster of Newfoundland stores. As a result, Koe was left to make a draw for a single point to re-tie the game, leaving Gushue with the last rock in the 10th.
And that is what it came down to. The last rock of the end and of the competition, the 250th rock thrown by Gushue at this Brier.
Newfoundland had played a pretty solid end, beginning with a tick-over by Walker on a prospective Team Canada guard. Still, Koe would eventually get two rocks inside the house, both straddling the border between the 12- and eight-foot rings — one forward, one back. They were both about the same distance from the centre pin, the front one being deliberately placed there by Koe with his last shot, hoping to deny Gushue an easy hit-and-stick on an obvious counter.
He wanted Gushue to draw and that’s what the Newfoundland skip quickly decided to do, although Nichols pointed out that that a shot down to the Team Canada rock in the back of the rings would end up as a counter.
“We can come to this,” Nichols advised, tapping the yellow Team Canada stone. “Just saying.”
But it was obvious Gushue had made up his mind for an in-turn draw. He acknowledged Nichols’ words, but simply told his third “You come out”.
More on that in a bit.
Gushue went back to the other end of the ice with his front end of Gallant and Walker.
Just before, Gallant had pointed out that the ice had become a lot slower in the last half of the game, so much so that he suggested that to make the draw and reach the eight-foot to score, Gushue would need to throw with the same force that it would have taken to make the rock travel two yards further in the earlier ends.
“I think it’s six feet slower in this path,” said Gallant.
Gushue listened — “That much, hey?” he responded —  but couldn’t quite accept what he was being told.
In the TSN booth, Russ Howard, Gushue’s former Olympic teammate, had an idea that might be the case.
“That’s going to put a lot of doubt in Brad Gushue’s head,” said Howard after the Newfoundland skip and his second has discussed the chosen glide path and how slow it might be.
“There was so much uncertainty of the weight,” Gushue said after the game when asked to describe his thought process leading into the throw. “I hadn’t thrown a draw since the fifth end and the weight had changed dramatically.
“And the guys were telling me to throw six feet more, (but) I had a hard time believing it was that slow and I only gave them two feet more.”
Gushue called for Nichols to move the broom a bit and take a little less ice, settled into the hack and then made his throw.
That there could be trouble was obvious to Gallant almost as soon as his skip released the shot.
“It’s a hair light,” he said and set to ferociously sweeping.
So did Walker, but the Newfoundland lead was hurting, having injured his right shoulder in the late going of Thursday’s round-robin win over Team Canada.
He had soldiered through the final round-robin game, a Friday morning win over Nova Scotia, and in a victory over Manitoba in the 1-2 Page Playoff later that night. The latter had earned Newfoundland a direct berth into Sunday’s final, and Walker hoped a day off Saturday would mean he could be at 60 or 70 per cent effectiveness Sunday night.
But in the first end of the final — and even after switching sweeping sides with Gallant to take pressure off the affected shoulder —  he already knew that wasn’t going to be the case.
In the second end, pretty much everyone in Mile One was aware of the situation. That’s when Nichols jumped out of the house to replace Walker for the brush of a Gushue shot that he and Gallant dragged into the house to score three.
He repeated the act in the 10th, hurrying out to take over for Walker. Since he didn’t need to call the line for a hit or hit-and-roll, he was on the sweeping scene before Gushue’s last shot was halfway down the ice.
“I’m in. I’m in,” said Nichols, who quickly realized the rock needed help to reach its intended goal.
“It’s not heavy,” he said with understatement, and immediately joined Gallant in what proved to be an heroic effort.
With the crowd returned to its tumult and roaring its support, as Gushue made like a drill sergeant hollering at recruits “Harder! Harder!, Harder!,” as even the normally quiet Walker added his voice to they skip’s cadence, as Gallant and Nichols pounded away at their work, the rock crept into the rings just past the yellow Team Canada stone and in front of it by three or four inches after a trip of about 115 feet.
“They had to work their butts to get it there,” said Gushue of his sweepers.
“I was hoping to have the out-turn path coming back, because it was a little quicker. We hadn’t played that in-turn path in six ends. Fortunately, we got it there.”
Even then, he was surprised at how slow the ice was along that route.
“At the hog line, I still thought it was top four,” said Gushue.
So apparently did Koe. As the rock approached the house, he turned and tossed his broom onto the carpet behind the ice, in preparation — one could assume — to shake hands with the new champs.
“Growing (up) at the Carol Curling Club, I’d sit in the hack — and I’m sure Brad was doing the same thing — saying to myself “Here’s the shot to win the Brier,” said Nichols. “You do that hundreds — I’d even say thousands of times — over the course of your career, saying that very thing, imagining that shot.
“But to actually have that opportunity and then to be a part of making that shot, and to pull off that shot and to have it actually win a Brier and to do it home in from these fans after all they’ve done for us … the reality is way better than all that imagining.”

bmcc@thetelegram.com