CHATHAM-KENT, Ont. — Brad Gushue has started his season right where he finished the last one: in the winner’s circle at the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling.
Gushue and his St. John’s, N.L., crew closed out the previous Olympic cycle back in April capturing the Humpty’s Champions Cup and picked up where they left off by claiming the Princess Auto Elite 10 men’s title.
Team Gushue topped Reid Carruthers and his Winnipeg club 1 UP (two skins to one in eight ends) in Sunday’s final at the soldout Thames Campus Arena.
It’s the 11th Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling championship for Gushue, who earned $30,000 plus 12 Pinty’s Cup points, and his 10th in four years since third Mark Nichols rejoined the squad in 2014.
“I just love curling with these guys,” said Gushue, whose team also includes second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker. “We have a ton of fun out there. We’re joking around, we’re ribbing each other. It’s fun and I think the fact that we have this much fun, it keeps us loose in big moments like this and allows us to perform the way we have in these big games.”
Gushue, who edged Carruthers in a shootout for the Elite 10 title in 2016, added they were “obviously fortunate” to win given the team barely had time to practise together and get their sea legs going leading up to the event.
“I didn’t know what to expect seeing as how Mark and I only got on the ice last Sunday,” Gushue said. “Low expectations. We actually had our flight booked to go out today, so we had to change that. To come out here and win against teams that have played two, three or four times, it’s good but a little bit of luck. We had some fortunate misses against us and also made some key shots too.”
“For myself and Brad only being on the ice for a week, it felt pretty good,” Nichols added. “We had some mistakes out there but I think everyone did. Some early season rust there but made the ones that counted.”
Match play rules were in effect at the Princess Auto Elite 10 where teams competed to win the most ends per game similar to skins only without carryovers. Points were scored by either counting two or more rocks (with the hammer) or stealing at least one rock (without the hammer). If the game was tied after eight ends, a draw-to-the-button shootout determined the winner.
“This format, you get a few in there and then you just kind of hold your breath and hope they don’t make a big one,” Nichols said. “We were lucky enough that didn’t happen a couple times for us.”
Steals proved to be the key with Gushue getting some uncharacteristic misses from new Team Carruthers fourth Mike McEwen. The former skip and seven-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling title winner flashed on his first throw in the fourth end sending it through the wickets untouched while his last, an angle raise double attempt, missed the mark to give up a point.
McEwen, who decisively defeated Gushue in last season’s Elite 10 final, misfired a raise double takeout in the sixth end missing the counter as Gushue stole again to go 2 UP. That put Carruthers in the danger zone needing to win out to keep his title hopes alive.
“We were in a little bit of trouble there,” Gushue said. “I made a good one on my last. Even though I made it, I left him a runback, which you expect Mike McEwen to make that and we got a lucky break in him missing it.”
Gushue looked to deliver the dagger in seven but left his opponent off the hook. His last was light and tight allowing McEwen to make the short raise bump to earn a checkmark.
“That side of the sheet in seven hadn’t been played,” Nichols said. “We knew it would be a little bit slower. We guessed a little wrong. That happens and you kind of take it for what it’s worth. Turn around, forget about it, make sure you play a good eighth and give Brad an open shot to win.”
Indeed, things went as planned for Gushue in the eighth as the team was able to keep things nice and tidy down the stretch only needing a hit and roll on the lone Carruthers counter with his last to ice the match.
“We were up two and we decided just to go for it in seven instead of playing it simple,” Gushue said. “It seemed to work for us all week, it didn’t work for us there although if I made my draw with the first it would have sealed the deal. We played a great last end and we’re quite happy to be Elite 10 champions.”
McEwen joined his longtime pal Carruthers, who is a two-time Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling champion, this season as they gear up for the Olympic cycle aiming to compete for Canada at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.
“I have tons of respect for Reid and got to play with him for a couple of years,” said Nichols, who manned the front end with Carruthers on Jeff Stoughton’s team and won the 2013 National GSOC title together. “Mike’s one of the best shooters in the world. They’re going to be a force to be reckoned with throughout this year and the next four years. I’m sure it’s not going to be our last battle against them.”
Team Carruthers, which also includes second Derek Samagalski and lead Colin Hodgson, cashed in $19,500 and nine Pinty’s Cup points. The Pinty’s Cup is awarded to the bonus points men’s and women’s champions following the conclusion of the Players’ Championship in April.
The Princess Auto Elite 10 featured three additional unique rules: Stopwatches were banned, tick shots were not allowed on guards sitting on the centre line until the sixth rock of play, and teams had four minutes of thinking time per end.
Earlier, Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg made history by capturing the inaugural Princess Auto Elite 10 women’s title. It was also the first championship in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling for the reigning Olympic gold medallist.
The second stop on the 2018-19 Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tour will be the first major of the season, the Canadian Beef Masters, taking place Oct. 23-28 in Truro, N.S.