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Gushue looking to lock up World Championship spot for Canada

Brad Gushue Brad Gushue - The Canadian Press

The weight of a curling nation rests squarely on the shoulders of Brad Gushue and his team this week.

The reigning Canadian champions will represent the country in the second Pan Continental Championships, being held in Kelowna, B.C., starting on Oct. 29. This event will determine which countries outside of Europe gain entry into the 2024 world championships, set for Schaffhausen, Switzerland from March 30-April 7.

But if you thought Gushue was feeling any nerves about the potential of Canada not getting a place in the world final, rest easy. The five-time Montana’s Brier champ is confident he and his team of Mark Nichols, E.J. Harnden, and Geoff Walker can claim one of the five spots available.

“I’m not really all that worried,” he stated. “If we play okay, we should be fine to get Canada into the worlds.”

This year’s field includes teams from Australia, Chinese Taipei, Guyana, Japan, Korea, New Zealand and United States. There is also a B pool where representatives from countries such as Saudi Arabia and India play for the right to advance to next year’s A pool. That’s how Guyana, a country with almost no curlers and no curling ice, moved up a tier and will go up against the likes of Canada this year.

Gushue has never played a team from Guyana before, but he did have one interaction with players from that country earlier this season.

While practising with his team at a rink in Oakville, Ont., he noticed a player on another sheet struggling with his slide. He went over and offered to help, offering up a few tips. Only later did he learn that it was one of the Guyanese curlers.

This year’s competition will bring another irregularity to the Gushue team in the location of the event. It’s not that Kelowna is unknown as a curling location but rather that play will be held in a curling club. The Canadian champs rarely play in anything but arenas these days.

“To be honest, I don’t love playing in curling clubs,” said Gushue, who played the 1999 Canadian Junior at the Kelowna Curling Club. “I prefer to play in front of crowds and feed off the cheers.”

The ice and rocks will be another consideration for the Canadian team with both being different than what they normally get in arena play.

The Gushue rink is off to a rather mediocre start to its season and has yet to win an event. It lost in the semifinals to Brendan Bottcher’s team at last week’s first Grand Slam event in Niagara Falls, Ont., and was knocked out in the third round of the PointsBet Invitational last month by Reid Carruthers’ Manitoba team.

“So far this year has been okay,” stated Gushue. “We’re probably not as thrilled as we want to be. It seems like we have games where one or two of us are playing really well but not all four at the same time.”

On the women’s side, Kerri Einarson and her Canadian champions also will wear the Maple Leaf for the second consecutive year. The team is facing less stress than the men as Canada, as host of this year’s women’s world championship, is guaranteed a spot in the field. The event is slated for Sydney, Nova Scotia, March 16-24.

The team of Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Harris will go up against teams from Australia, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Korea, Mexico, New Zealand and United States.

Einarson won the bronze medal at this event last year, with Japan knocking off Korea in the final.

The Canadian games at the Pan Continental Championships will be shown on TSN with the first draw of the men’s event airing at 4:30 p.m. ET, on Sunday. The opening match for the women will be shown starting at 10:30 p.m. ET