OTTAWA — Brad Gushue has seen some curling teams fold under pressure at Olympic qualification events and watched others rise to the occasion.
The skip from St. John’s, N.L., was a surprise winner at the 2005 Trials and went on to win gold at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. He also watched the action from the bench as an alternate four years ago.
One thing he has learned is teams that change their style under the heightened pressure of the Trials tend to struggle, while those who stay the course are often rewarded.
“We approached it just like any other event,” Gushue said of his 2005 victory. “As the week started going on, it looked more and more like we were going to be there at the end.”
Gushue was an underdog that year in Halifax. Now the reigning national and world champion is a favourite entering the 2017 Trials at Canadian Tire Centre.
Gushue, who also won the first two Grand Slam events of this season, will look to carry the momentum from his tremendous calendar year into the Dec. 2-10 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings.
“Do what you normally do,” he said of his team’s plan. ”Those routines will generally pay off. There’s no guarantee but it will certainly give you the best chance.”
There will be 18 teams on the ice in the nation’s capital — nine in the men’s draw and nine in the women’s draw — with the winning rinks to represent Canada at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Sochi Games champion Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and 2016 world champion Kevin Koe of Calgary are some of the other men’s headliners. Reigning world champion Rachel Homan of Ottawa is a favourite in the women’s field along with 2014 Olympic champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg.
The qualification process for the Trials began in the 2014-15 season and was completed a few weeks ago at a Pre-Trials competition in Summerside, P.E.I.
The men’s field is rounded out by Winnipeg’s Reid Carruthers, Toronto’s John Epping, Saskatoon’s Steve Laycock, Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen, Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher and John Morris of Vernon, B.C.
“I think eight of the top 10 teams in the world are from Canada, so those Olympic Trials are the most pressure-packed event that you can play when it comes to curling,” said Morris, who won Olympic gold in 2010.
“But that carrot of the Olympics at the end of the day is worth it, and we work hard for four years towards that and it’s something that never gets old.”
The women’s field also includes Winnipeg’s Michelle Englot, Alli Flaxey of Caledon, Ont., Casey Scheidegger of Lethbridge, Val Sweeting of Edmonton, Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay, Ont., Calgary’s Chelsea Carey and Julie Tippin of Woodstock, Ont.
With such loaded fields, many feel the Roar of the Rings is the toughest event in curling to win.
“It is excruciatingly hard,” Morris said in a recent interview. “You think about it for years before it happens. That’s why you’re in the gym every day in the summer and that’s why you’re on the ice 2-3 hours at least a day during the winter.
“Canada has such a deep talent pool with curlers in our country, it’s a testament to our great curling program. But that elite group is getting even more tough. Probably the top 10 teams in Canada are extremely tough right now.”