Brad Gushue keeps looking for the right combination, trying to find the proper mix of curling talent, personalities and dedicated players like the group who helped him win an Olympic gold medal in 2006.
Gushue now recruits players from across the country to help with his quest. A 31-year-old, married father of two with a business in St. John's, he's not going anywhere else to join an elite rink. So it's a tough sell, bringing potential teammates to far-off Newfoundland with the only promise being that they can compete for all of curling's top prizes.
It didn't work at the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier, where Gushue and his teammates – third Ryan Fry of Manitoba, second Adam Casey of Prince Edward Island and lead Geoff Walker of Alberta – missed the playoffs.
"Newfoundland's a wonderful place, but it's not a place people aspire to play out of if they're looking to be top curlers," Gushue said during the Canadian men's championship. The round-robin schedule ended Thursday.
Gushue just completed skipping his home province in a ninth Brier, which he described as "the worst Brier I've ever played." He has never won a national championship, but his former team – with the addition of two-time champion Russ Howard – won the qualifying trials and Olympic gold medals in 2006. As that team disbanded, Gushue tried adding replacements, including a disastrous attempt with six-time Canadian champion Randy Ferbey.
"Sometimes it works, sometimes it blows up in your face," Gushue said. "I like to switch things up to ultimately find that. Some people think it takes time. I'm a believer that you know when you get it, it's like a good marriage. Maybe I'm wrong, but once you get the right personalities together you know you have the potential for a championship team."
Newfoundland, along with former champions Glenn Howard of Ontario and Kevin Koe of Alberta, were among the pretournament favourites, despite the retirement of Gushue's long-time third, Mark Nichols. That precipitated moving Fry to third from second and the enticement of Casey and Walker. All of Gushue's new teammates have competed at high levels, plus they're single and portable. Fry is 33, Casey is 22 and Walker is 26.
"It's obviously a proven team, one of the top teams in the world," said Walker, who had been an insurance broker in Alberta and isn't sure what he's going to do for full-time employment on The Rock. "It's tough to turn down. Plus there's the Olympic opportunity. That's the goal …
"You want to be four friends off the ice because you spend so much time together, sharing motel rooms half the year with each other and all the travelling," Walker added. "I didn't know Brad at all, Ryan I knew just a little, Adam and I played in same junior nationals. Like I said, you've got to be good buddies. Ryan got a house this summer, so I was able to move in there. That helped with the move, for sure."
Gushue's Olympic team had its roots in junior curling. They added Howard as an experienced game-caller, plus his personality fit into the team's makeup.
Apparently it's not an exact science, this team-building thing. Kevin Martin, a four-time Brier champ and skip of the 2010 Olympic champions, regularly alters his Edmonton-based team. Glenn Howard had to change his Ontario team this year by adding Wayne Middaugh as a replacement for retired third Richard Hart; the team has evidently gelled because it has qualified for the Page playoffs. And nine-time Manitoba champion Jeff Stoughton, who lost in this year's provincial playdowns, just dumped long-time lead Steve Gould in an effort to stay competitive.
"I don't think there's a magic recipe to building a championship team," Gushue said. "You put the things in place, then hope the chemistry comes along with it.
"After our showing this week, there's going to be some self-evaluation and team evaluation so we can see how we can get better, to switch things around so we can be 6-3 rather than 3-6. It would be nice to build a team from scratch, put it together again and have the same success."
Special to The Globe and Mail