Team Wild Card One skip Brad Gushue, centre, directs his teammates while playing Team Northwest Territories at the Tim Hortons Brier in Lethbridge, Alta., Monday, March 7, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Beijing bronze medallist and Brier champ Gushue to wear Maple Leaf again at worlds

Beijing bronze medallist and Brier champ Gushue to wear Maple Leaf again at worlds

Brad Gushue’s team has unfinished business in Sin City. They’ll try to keep the distractions to a minimum – including the end-of-season departure of Brett Gallant – as they try to win a world men’s curling championship.

Less than two months after winning Olympic bronze, the St. John’s-based team will represent Canada once again at the April 2-10 event at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

It will be the first competition for Gushue, Gallant, vice Mark Nichols and lead Geoff Walker since the team’s recent announcement that Gallant would be moving to a new rink next season.

“I think it’s fair that there is going to be a different feeling maybe (at worlds),” Gallant said. “But at the same time, our team has overcome a lot of different challenges and distractions over the years.

“So I think once we focus on the curling and focus on the job at hand, I think that’ll be in the background.”

The foursome has enjoyed a remarkable run together and will go down as one of the best teams in Canadian curling history. Gushue, Nichols and Walker plan to play together next season but there’s no word yet on who will replace Gallant at second.

Along with their third-place finish at the Beijing Games, the team has won four of the last six national titles, a world championship in 2017 and 11 Grand Slam titles.

They’ll try to finish strong in Vegas – where they settled for world silver in 2018 – before capping the campaign with two Grand Slam stops later this spring.

“The challenge we had last time we were in Vegas was all the distractions off the ice and also the ice quality was less than we desired,” Gushue said. “We’re prepared going in knowing that both of those things are probably still going to be very similar.”

Gushue added that the Nevada city presented a “completely different experience” than any other world championship.

“Our intentions are just to get away from the venue a little bit more than what we did four years ago,” he said. “So that experience is certainly going to help us now.”

Gushue fell to Niklas Edin in the 2018 world final. The reigning Olympic champion from Sweden is one of the headliners in a 13-team field that includes Switzerland’s Yannick Schwaller and American Korey Dropkin.

Other entries include the Czech Republic (Lukas Klima), Denmark (Tobias Thune), Finland (Kalle Kiiskinen), Germany (Sixten Totzek), Italy (Joel Retornaz), South Korea (Chang-Min Kim), the Netherlands (Wouter Goesgens), Norway (Magnus Ramsfjell) and Scotland (Kyle Waddell).

Coach Jeff Thomas, who has worked with Gushue’s team at times this season, said he has noticed a great connection among the players as they take in the moment at major events.

“I’m hoping they take that forward to the world championship and enjoy that experience as well,” he said. “With that sort of attitude, shot making becomes easier and that’s a good thing.”

Gushue’s team played the final weekend at the Brier without Nichols, who had to withdraw after testing positive for COVID-19. Nichols said this week that he’s almost back to 100 per cent.

The team will have an alternate on board this time. Longtime Team Brad Jacobs second E.J. Harnden will serve as a fifth.

Edin beat Scotland’s Bruce Mouat in last year’s world final in the Calgary bubble. It was his third straight world crown and fifth overall. The Canadian team skipped by Brendan Bottcher did not make the podium.

Canada’s Kerri Einarson won bronze at last week’s world women’s curling championship in Prince George, B.C.

The Canadian men will open against the Czech Republic on Saturday afternoon. Round-robin play continues through April 8 with the top six teams advancing to the weekend playoffs.

“Our expectations, as always, will be to give everything we have,” Gallant said. “We’d love to come out of that with a world championship.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2022.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press