Whenever Brad Gushue wins the Tim Hortons Brier, competitive curlers in Newfoundland and Labrador rejoice.

Sure, they’re happy the small, curling-crazed island province gets to celebrate another Tankard victory, but they’re really excited what it might mean to their own careers.

With Team Gushue automatically booking a spot into the following year’s Canadian championship as Team Canada, the province’s playdowns become wide open, giving curlers like Greg Smith a fighting chance to accomplish their dream of playing in the Brier.

“My goal, when Brad hangs up his curling shoes, is to follow and do the best that I can and, God-willing, win the Brier someday,” Smith told TSN.ca on Tuesday. “A lot of us here have the same aspirations and are doing all the laps to try and get better and better.”

For the longest time, it seemed like Gushue and his teammates were the only curlers in the eastern province. The skip represented the Rock at the Brier 14 times during a 15-year stretch from 2003 to 2017, only missing out in 2006 because he was busy winning Olympic gold for Canada in Italy.

When Gushue finally won his first Tankard in 2017, Smith took full advantage. The St. John’s native won the 2018 Newfoundland Tankard and competed in his first career Brier a few weeks later in Regina.

With Gushue capturing his third national title in four years earlier this month, the door is once again wide open, and Smith wants in.

The 23-year-old is looking for an import player to join himself, Greg Blyde and Evan McDonah for the 2020-21 season, with booking a spot in the Kelowna Brier as the ultimate goal.

With Smith and the rest of Canada stuck inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the skipper has had plenty of time to research all possibilities for a new teammate. Options within the province are limited, due to the fact most players are already locked into various teams.

“A lot of people are coming forward – from as far as Manitoba to just down the road,” Smith said.

McDonah is expected to throw lead rocks for this team, while Blyde can play second or third, depending on who they add from out of the province. Smith says they should have their decision made by sometime next week at the latest.

“It’s what best for the team and what’s going to give us our best chance at hopefully representing the province,” he said. “We want to put that good, good lineup together because there’s a bit of depth here. You can’t just enter any four and hope for the best.”

Smith says he doesn’t have to know the player personally either, it just needs to be the right fit.

“I’m quite easy to get along with,” Smith said. “So, as long as they don’t mind having a drink and a laugh and they can throw the rock good and they’re going to go to the gym, I think we can get along quite good.”

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Smith estimates his new foursome will play in at least seven events leading up to next year’s provincial Tankard in February.

“You don’t get better unless you play better teams,” Smith said. “We can’t expect to do well in the Tankard, and hopefully win, if we don’t run the laps earlier in the year.”

Another common theme after Gushue wins a Brier is the noticeable uptick in teams that come together to play out of Newfoundland the following year. Just five rinks entered the 2017 Tankard before jumping up to nine in 2018 and 12 in 2019 with Gushue winning back-to-back nationals.

Next year should be no different, as Smith thinks there could be anywhere from 12 to 15 teams making the trip.

Aaron Sluchinski, who skipped in the Alberta playdowns this season, added three curlers with birthright status in Newfoundland – most noticeably Don Bartlett, the famous lead for Alberta’s Kevin Martin – and is now eligible to play out of the province next year.

“I think it’s a great thing. Hopefully in a couple years Brad retires, God love him, and that will be like that every year here,” Smith joked.


Looking Back

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Smith skipped an entirely different rink in his first provincial playdowns back in 2018 and admits they weren’t expected to finish anywhere near the top, even with Gushue not in the field.

“You would probably have us down at sixth or seventh on the island. And then it was like, ‘You know what? Let’s prove them wrong,’” said Smith.

Team Smith went 8-0 and punched their ticket to the Regina Brier, where they posted a 1-6 record.

Smith said one of the things he’ll try to focus on if he can get back to the Canadian championship is to stay in the moment.

“Sometimes you think about the end goal or outcome of the game as opposed to the individual shot and individual end. There were a lot of games that we were leading and in control [in 2018], even up until the sixth or seventh end of the game,” he said. “And then I was like a deer in the headlights. Execution went away, sometimes strategy went away.”

The wins may have not been there in 2018, but Smith became a fan favourite in Regina with his colourful personality and animated shot-calling. The energetic skip says that just how he is, no matter the situation.

“That is me all the time. I’m a very good bowler too, and in my first year of bowling, I kid you not, I got onto the lane and I was almost in a tuck slide and yelled ‘Hurry Hard!’ as the ball was moving up the lane,” Smith explained.

“It doesn’t matter which event I’m in, I’m a bit crazy, but it pays dividends I guess.”

Smith says the experience in 2018, plus some disappointing results at the past two provincial playdowns, has made the hunger to get back even more prevalent.

“Knowing that you have more to show and knowing you can do more and better, it just really, really puts a fire in my belly to get back there and improve myself,” he said.

Keep up to date with all of curling’s roster moves with the TSN.ca roster tracker.