As his curling mates rode stationary bikes, Brad Gushue ate a sprinkle-covered doughnut and grumbled about his back being sore from having to carry his team.
Geoff Walker, the lead on Gushue's Newfoundland/Labrador rink, responded quickly: "Did he really say that? If he made a couple more shots early on in the game we wouldn't have had to play an extra end. Geez."
Yes, it was all in fun and captured on video to give the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier a dash of levity. A younger Gushue probably wouldn't have gone along with such a thing. He was all business back in the day; a sure-shot, hot-stuff skip in a big hurry to get to the top. These days, he still wants to win and be the best. But things are different; Gushue at 32 is different.
This is his 10th Brier and Wednesday afternoon at Rexall Place he pushed his record to a sparkling 7-0, taking his younger teammates another step closer to a playoff berth and a shot at the Canadian men's curling championship. For a man who has won virtually everything else his sport has to offer, including a gold medal from the 2006 Turin Olympic, being a national champion remains the consummate goal.
Not that sitting atop the standings midway through a Brier guarantees a happy ending. With almost the same team that finished 5-6 at the 2012 Brier, Gushue understands there are still lessons to be learned, work to be done – daunting work considering Newfoundland's next four games are against Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba, Glenn Howard of Ontario, Kevin Martin of Alberta and Jean-Michel Ménard of Quebec. All four have won a Brier, and Howard won in 2007 by beating Gushue.
"You can't look at that block of games because if you do you're going to get a little bit … freaked out. We'll say that," Gushue said after beating the Northwest Territories/Yukon 7-3. "For sure, it gets tougher but I think if we continue to play this way that's the key, just go out there, play well, maybe catch a break, maybe make a big shot and get a win out of it. I'm happy with the way we're playing and I like our chances against the guys we're coming up against."
Known for his demanding nature, a trait that has led to several lineup changes, Gushue has grown into a nurturing role on a team that doesn't have a wealth of experience playing together. Long-time friend and current team alternate Jamie Korab sees the change in Gushue as a positive transformation.
"When we were growing up we were all the same age, whereas now, Brad's the old guy on the team and he knows that to get the most out of the guys he needs to support them," Korab explained. "His work ethic is still there. There's no question that in the last 15 years there's not a curler who has thrown more rocks than Brad. The thing I can really see is the maturity and how he's handling situations.
"Being in a business, having a family and two kids, it all comes into perspective. Definitely, [he's] more relaxed."
Ironically, Gushue is up against former teammates Mark Nichols, Ryan Fry and Chris Schille, all of whom are playing on rival rinks here. They have played against one another before, which will take away most of the emotional edge. For Gushue, it's the business side of the sport, something he can't be worried about as he takes his rink into the most demanding portion of its round-robin play.
"I even think it's a little too early to look at it and see where you stand and who beats who and what not. Most teams have five games left," he said. "I can't imagine eight [wins] not getting you in [to the playoffs]. I haven't seen that before … I feel much better with the way we're playing. I thought the last two games were textbook. We felt comfortable out there, very confident."
Comfortable enough to play act in a video and have a few laughs at their own expense. The young Gushue might have flinched at that; the older version thought it was just fine.