Forced into isolation due to COVID-19, Team Gushue vice Mark Nichols could only watch on television as his teammates won the Canadian men’s curling championship last month.
Now Nichols is set to return to the lineup as the Olympic bronze medallists put on the Maple Leaf again at the world men’s curling championship starting Saturday in Las Vegas.
“It has been a little bit of a slower process than I would have liked but I’m pretty darn close to 100 per cent,” Nichols said.
Skip Brad Gushue, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker played as a three-man unit on the final weekend of the Tim Hortons Brier in Lethbridge, Alta. The Wild Card One squad topped Alberta’s Kevin Koe 9-8 in the championship game.
Nichols helped the St. John’s-based team run the table in round-robin play. He led all thirds with a shooting percentage of 88 per cent before withdrawing from the event.
“The watching part in my hotel room by myself was absolutely awful,” Nichols said on a pre-event conference call. “Those guys were unreal. The problem is you’ve got no control when you’re sitting in a hotel room.
“That’s the hardest part because you’re so used to being out there and I’m not used to watching.”
The 42-year-old third had some fun on social media as he battled mild symptoms. He hammed it up on Twitter, joking about his sky-high stress level during the final and posting photos of the glazed crullers he was enjoying while watching the action.
“It was really tough to see the three guys out there without me,” he said. “But man, it was fun to watch them do what they did against all those odds and a lot of people writing them off.
“I’m just really excited to get back on the ice with the four of us now and having (alternate) E.J. (Harnden) a part of it, it’s going to be a great time.”
Team Gushue earned Olympic bronze in February at the Beijing Games and will be one of the favourites at the 13-team world championship.
Harnden, a longtime member of Team Brad Jacobs, will serve as the alternate but is expected to see little — if any — game action.
The members of the Jacobs team will go their separate ways at season’s end. Gallant will be moving on to a new team next season but Gushue said the April 2-10 competition will not serve as a tryout for Harnden.
“E.J. is a great player and a great person and that’s why we asked him to come along as fifth,” Gushue said. “We’re just focused on playing in Vegas and trying to win a world championship.”
The team arrived in Nevada earlier in the week and enjoyed a round of golf on Wednesday. A one-hour practice at the Orleans Arena on Friday was their first on-ice session as a foursome since the Brier.
Nichols said he did some sweeping during practice and “felt OK,” adding his plan at the moment is to play every game.
“We’re going ahead like everything is normal,” he said after the session. “We’ll try to manage our load a little bit I would think — depending on scores of the games — and take your rest when needed.
“We’re going to play a lot of games in a short period of time here. So it’ll be strategic.”
Gushue and defending champion Niklas Edin of Sweden are the main headliners. Edin won Olympic gold in Beijing with a victory over Scotland’s Bruce Mouat.
Gushue, who took some time off after the Brier win, will open round-robin play Saturday afternoon against Lukas Klima of the Czech Republic.
“I think if anything we’re probably going to go in maybe a hair rusty because we have focused on rest,” Gushue said. “It has been a long season, not just physically but mentally and emotionally.”
Edin, the three-time defending champ, beat Gushue in the 2018 final at the same Las Vegas venue to avenge a loss to the Canadian a year earlier in Edmonton.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2022.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press