Skips say future of N.L. curling is in good hands as Team Gushue changes look for upcoming season

·4 min read
Brad Gushue, right, celebrates with his teammates after their 10-8 win over China at the Beijing Olympics. Team Gushue will look slightly different for the 2022-23 season after Brett Gallant left the team in May. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters - image credit)
Brad Gushue, right, celebrates with his teammates after their 10-8 win over China at the Beijing Olympics. Team Gushue will look slightly different for the 2022-23 season after Brett Gallant left the team in May. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters - image credit)
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters
Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

With Newfoundland and Labrador's most successful curling team parting ways earlier this month, two local skips say they're excited to see how the local scene develops with up and coming talent.

Brett Gallant, who has curled with Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols and Geoff Walker since 2012, will begin curling with Alberta's Brendan Bottcher later this year. Since Gallant joined Team Gushue, the team has won four Briers along with a world championship, 11 grand slam titles and an Olympic bronze medal in February.

Greg Smith, who leads a team with Adam Boland, Chris Ford and Zach Young out of Baly Haly Curling Club, has competed against Gushue provincially and nationally. He says he'll remember the team as one of the greatest to ever hit the ice.

"I'm grateful I got to play them, and even more grateful that they won a couple Briers and helped me get to two of them because of that," Smith said, laughing, in a recent interview with CBC News.

Gallant's spot on Team Gushue will be filled by Olympic gold medalist E.J. Harnden, announced by the team earlier this month. Harnden comes to the province from northern Ontario where he has curled alongside long-time skip Brad Jacobs since 2009.

When asked if he was surprised the team had to go out of province to find Gallant's replacement, Smith said it makes sense for Gushue to find someone with experience at the highest level.

"There's a lot of great curlers in this province, and a lot of in-shape curlers as well. But I think that nobody has played to that tier-one calibre," he said.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

"It would be some growing pains to get somebody into that environment...There's a lot of great tier-two teams in the province, but not as familiar with the competition like E.J."

However, it doesn't mean the up and comers in Newfoundland and Labrador can't get to that point.

Smith said curling continues to grow in N.L. as he sees more young people taking up the sport. He points to the 2017 Brier — Team Gushue's first Brier win — as a key igniter for the sport locally and believes things will only continue to grow.

"A lot of teams like ourselves are doing more events away, and that's really the only way that you can get better and have better results at a Scotties, or a Brier, or a Juniors or whatever you're doing," he said.

"The quality of curling in this province is in good hands, and it's only getting better. In the years to come I think we're going to see that."

I really believe we could do whatever we want in curling. - Nathan Young

One of those teams looking to make an impact is skipped by Nathan Young. The 19-year-old from St. John's who led his team of Sam Follett, Nathan Locke, Ben Stringer and alternate Nicholas Codner to the 2022 provincial title.

Young said he has been curling for as long as he can remember, beginning in the sport around the same time Team Gushue won Olympic gold in 2006.

"Since our team has started to compete, we take so much away from Team Gushue's work ethic and what they do," Young said. "It inspires us and makes us realize 'Wow, it's possible to do that.' And it really motivates us going forward."

Entering their 10th season as a group — the last in which they qualify as a junior team — Young said the team hopes to continue their run of success while also looking to the future.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

"Once you've aged out of juniors, you kind of have to decide are you going to go for a career in curling," he said.

"For us to get to the Brier a year or two before we actually have to make that decision… it was so beneficial for us to play against the top teams in the world and see first hand that's the level we have to be at to make a run at this."

And while Young says a lot goes into the decision to make curling a career, he isn't short on confidence about how far his team can go.

"If we wanted to win a Brier, represent Canada at the Worlds or even give the Olympics a run, there's no doubt in my mind that we can do it," Young said.

"We have the skill, we have teams that love the game and who are really great athletes here. So we'll see, but I'm very excited for the future of curling in our province."

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