EDMONTON — Brad Gushue and his teammates have plenty of experience wearing the Maple Leaf even though they’re set to make their first appearance at the world men’s curling championship.
Gushue and third Mark Nichols won Olympic gold at the Turin Games in 2006, five years after winning a world junior title together. Second Brett Gallant skipped Canada to world junior silver in 2009 and lead Geoff Walker played third on the national team skipped by Charley Thomas that won world junior gold in 2006.
The foursome from St. John’s will be podium favourites when the 2017 world men’s playdowns begin Saturday at the Northlands Coliseum. The Brier champions are joined by coach Jules Owchar, team leader Rick Lang and alternate Tom Sallows.
“Lots of experience within the room,” Gushue said. “I don’t think there’s going to be anything that’s really going to surprise us.”
Earlier this month, Gushue edged Kevin Koe 7-6 to win the national men’s title for the first time in 14 tries. He became the first Newfoundland skip to hoist the Brier Tankard since Jack MacDuff in 1976.
Gushue’s team came through despite the pressure and distractions that came with playing in their hometown. They also played hurt as Gushue has been dealing with a hip/groin issue and Walker’s sweeping abilities were hampered by a right shoulder injury.
“To win this one, it doesn’t seem to make much sense,” Gushue said. “I think it really showed that our team has a lot of grit and determination.”
The top-ranked team will look to build on that success in Edmonton.
Sweden’s Niklas Edin, Switzerland’s Peter de Cruz and Scotland’s David Murdoch are also expected to contend for podium spots.
Edin, who won Olympic bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games, won world titles in 2013 and 2015. De Cruz won a world junior title in 2010 while Murdoch took Olympic silver in 2014 and is a two-time world men’s champion (‘06, ‘09).
The 12-team field also includes American John Shuster, China’s Rui Liu, Germany’s Alexander Baumann, Italy’s Joel Retornaz, Japan’s Yusuke Morozumi, Jaap Van Dorp of the Netherlands, Norway’s Steffan Walstad and Russia’s Alexey Stukalskiy.
“I feel like our team is definitely one of the favourites going in,” Gushue said in a recent interview. “(We’re) right up there with Niklas and obviously Peter and David Murdoch are some of the other teams that people will highlight there. It’s a good field.”
Koe beat Gushue in the 2016 Brier final and then defeated Denmark’s Rasmus Stjerne 5-3 to win world gold in Basel, Switzerland. It was Canada’s first world men’s title since 2012.
Gushue missed the first few months of the season due to injury but his team maintained its top ranking with Nichols at skip. Sallows replaced Walker at the Elite 10 event after the Brier but the regular lineup is expected to be ready for Saturday’s opener against Switzerland.
“I think a lot of teams around Canada and around the world thought we were going to be in a lot of trouble with Brad out,” Nichols said after the Brier win. “We managed to do pretty well. When Brad came back everything fell back into place. We’re just so happy where we are.”
Round-robin play continues through April 6 and the medal games are set for April 9.
The venue can seat about 12,000 for curling.
That’s about twice the capacity of Mile One Centre in St. John’s.
“We’re going to treat it very similar to a Brier,” Gushue said. “The fact that it’s in Canada, a lot of things are going to be very similar about it.”
Sallows also served as a fifth on the Pat Simmons team that won world bronze two years ago in Halifax. Gushue and Walker also have world junior experience as alternates.
If Gushue reaches the podium, he will secure a direct entry into the Dec. 2-10 Olympic Trials in Ottawa.