Greg Smith would like nothing better than for Brad Gushue to repeat in Sunday’s championship game, which increases Smith’s odds for a return trip to next year’s Brier. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Animated rookie skip Greg Smith plots return to Brier, hopes for Gushue repeat

REGINA — Greg Smith will be cheering like mad for Brad Gushue to repeat as Canadian men’s curling champion.

Gushue winning for the first time in 2017 gave that team a bye into this year’s Tim Hortons Brier as Team Canada, and thus opened the door for a second team from Newfoundland and Labrador.

A year after losing the provincial junior final, the 21-year-old Smith was the youngest skip in the 16-team Brier field in Regina.

Smith’s team out of St. John’s, with an average age just under 24, took their lumps and travelled a large learning curve.

Smith, Matthew Hunt and front end Andrew Taylor and Ian Withycombe went 1-7 and lost their final game Friday 12-3 to Prince Edward Island.

Gushue, also from St. John’s, Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs and Ontario’s John Epping were all playoff-bound Friday and jockeying to improve their seeding. The fourth playoff team was still to be decided.

Smith would like nothing better than for Gushue to repeat in Sunday’s championship game, which increases Smith’s odds for a return trip to next year’s Brier in Brandon, Man.

“Oh yeah, big time, big time,” Smith said. “We’re going to swap our NL jerseys for a little bit of Maple Leaf and hope that he wins.”

“It would mean a ton. Maybe I can improve on my record if I come back. This has been an absolute whirlwind this week.

“If Brad wins again and (we) have a better opportunity to get back, that would be absolutely amazing. This was highlight of my life thus far, not just for curling, but for anything.”

Smith endeared himself to the Brandt Centre because no one had to guess what he felt during the tournament. The skip’s facial expressions and body contortions made Newfoundland’s games entertaining.

“What you see is what you get. I’m always very animated and right into it,” the curling instructor said.

“There was a bit of dancing going on. I don’t know what I was doing half the time. When I watch some of the games, I’m probably going to roll my eyes every time I see myself on the screen.”

Smith had never faced Gushue prior to their pool game Wednesday.

Newfoundland lost to Gushue 7-2, but Smith says playing the man who is the all-time leader in Brier wins was the highlight of his tournament. Smith was nine years old when Gushue won an Olympic gold medal in 2006.

“I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play him in any Tankards or anything like that,” Smith explained. “This was the first time ever playing him. It was pretty neat to do here.”

The young skip is inspired to step up his commitment to curling, having played it on a big stage.

“I know next year, regardless of whether Brad wins this or not, we are going to be doing more events on the mainland and we’re going to try and play better teams and improve ourselves as curlers and as a team,” Smith said.

“You can’t really get better unless you the play best.”

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