Brad Gushue admits he was a “stress bag” back in the day, an intense and somewhat temperamental young buck who had curling ranked up there with breathing on his list of priorities.
Today, Gushue, sitting barefoot in the sand and drink in hand, might well be a poster boy for Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 hit, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.
“As a person, I’ve matured quite a bit,” Gushue was saying this week, when asked the difference between Brad Gushue, the 2005 Canadian Olympic Trials champion, and the Brad Gushue who today starts the 2017 Roar of the Rings Olympic curling qualifier.
“I have a much different perspective of the game than I did back then. Back then, curling was the be all and end all. Every day now, I have a different perspective. Curling is still very important in my life, but it’s not the most important thing.
“Probably back in 2004 or 2005, it was the most important thing. That’s certainly changed. I’m much more level-headed, not as stressful or intense as I used to be.”
Nothing like life to give you a smack in the gob every once in a while to bring you back to earth. Gushue, now 37, acknowledges his mother’s bout with cancer put things in perspective in a hurry (Maureen Gushue, thankfully, is healthy these days).
So, too, does his own family. He’s married now, with two girls aged 10 and six, who keep him on the hop, if not grounded.
Plus, he’s the real little entrepreneur, with a number of rental properties he shares with his father, Ray, a couple of Menchie’s franchises and an Orangetheory fitness centre he co-owns with teammate Mark Nichols.
“At the end of the day, if we don’t get there (to the Olympics), I’m only going to lose sleep for about two nights. Life goes on. It’s really not going to have any impact on how people view me as a curler, particularly in Newfoundland.”
So when Gushue says getting back to the Olympics is not first and foremost in his life, you kind of get the feeling he really means it.
Oh sure, he’d love another shot at a gold medal in the 2018 PyeongChang Games, mainly, he says, because it would provide an opportunity for his girls to see him play in the Olympics.
“But at the end of the day, if we don’t get there, I’m only going to lose sleep for about two nights,” he said. “Life goes on. It’s really not going to have any impact on how people view me as a curler, particularly in Newfoundland.
“They’re not going to name another highway after us,” he says with a big laugh. “It really isn’t going to change anything. I’m not saying I’m not motivated, because I am 100 per cent, but at the end of the day if we don’t win, it’s not going to change our lives. If we do win, it’s not going to change our lives.
“For myself and Mark, in particular, there’s probably a whole lot less pressure on us than there is on a lot of other curlers.”
Ah yes, the pressure.
There’s always pressure in any big curling game, especially in the Brier or the Scotties or the world championships.
But the Olympic Trials amps it up that much more. There are fewer teams, with the men’s and women’s fields offering the best of the best.
Even Chelsea Carey of Alberta, the 2016 Canadian women’s champion, was noting that here in Ottawa, saying, “At the Olympic Trials, you don’t often see the favourites win because the pressure is just so incredible.”
There are no gimmes here. At stake is a trip to the Olympic Games where, coming in wearing the maple leaf, you’re considered a gold medal favourite from the outset.
So there will be some sweaty palms and jittery feet starting today at the Canadian Tire Centre outside Ottawa.
Just don’t expect Gushue to be one of the nervous nellies.
“I used to be like that,” he said. “I swear, I got so nervous before every big game, my hands would be shaking and everything.
“And I thought I grew out of that until I played in the Brier last year. I’ve never been more stressed in my life. I’m not overstating that. That’s 100 per cent how I felt, and I know Mark had similar emotions.”
Gushue and Nichols, along with Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker in the engine room, won the Brier last spring, in one of the most thrilling finishes in Canadian curling history.
They won on last rock, when Gushue’s throw appeared to be light, only to be dragged in to scoring position on a superb sweeping effort by his three teammates.
The roof almost quite literally came off Mile One Centre.
“After going through that for a week, I can go through anything,” Gushue says. “It was the equivalent of playing the Olympic Trials final every single game.”
Gushue enters the 2017 Roar of the Rings as the favourite to win, and not just because he’s the current Canadian and world champion.
It’s probably because he’s been lights out this year, going 32-5 on the World Curling Tour and winning two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events — the Tour Challenge and The Masters.
Last month, his string of 23 straight wins was snapped by a 5-2 loss to John Morris at The National in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
But curling is a very unpredictable game, and that was never more evident than in Halifax a dozen years ago when Gushue came out of nowhere to win the right to represent Canada at the 2006 Olympics in Italy.
Gushue, of course, was given “no chance” to win by Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton, then one of the top skips in the game.
So pardon him if he’s not booking flights to South Korea just yet.
“I don’t look too far ahead because I’ve been on the other side, when we were the eighth, ninth or 10th ranked team going in, and we won,” he said.
Kevin Martin dominated the 2009 Trials, going 7-1 to win the right to represent Canada in the 2010 Vancouver Games, where the team won gold.
In 2013, however, Brad Jacobs came out on top, which was a mild surprise despite the fact the team from the Soo had won the 2013 Brier and world titles.
“I won’t say Jacobs came out of nowhere, because they won the Brier the year before,” Gushue said, “but I don’t think you would have put him in the top three or four teams.
“With the calibre of teams here, it really comes down to who gets hot. Six of the top nine teams in the world are here, and even through we’re No. 1, there is no guarantee we’re going to win.
“Now, if we play the event 100 times, we’re probably going to win more than the others. We could easily go undefeated, but we could easily win only one or two games.
“There’s a little bit of luck and timing involved, and obviously preparation plays a big part. But even beyond preparation, you can do everything right and just have an off week … not that you play bad, but six or seven teams could have the best week of their lives.”
If Gushue has matured as a person since the Halifax Trials, he’s certainly matured as a curler, too. No longer is he the gunslinger, taking chances with the all-or-nothing shots.
He’s much more calculating now, and the ability and willingness to manage games is the biggest difference in his team today vs the Gushue teams of even four or five years ago.
“I liked taking those chances, but we rarely do that now,” he said. “We play a very strategic game, playing the odds much more than we used to do.
“I think part of that is our skill level is much higher than what it was back then, but I also think that back then I felt that for us to compete with some of the top teams I had to take extra chances.
“Now I know that if we just play our game, that’s good enough to beat any team in the world. It’s just a matter of us executing. Back then, even if we executed against the likes of Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard and those guys, they could still beat us. I felt we had to take a little bit of risk and keep the other team on their toes.
“It worked sometimes, but other times we looked stupid doing it.”