Brad Gushue was cruising at the 2018 Canadian men’s curling championship in Regina.
After winning a first Brier in storybook fashion in his hometown of St. John’s N.L. and a world championship in 2017, the pressure was off and his curling team fired on all cylinders in Regina.
But a lesson was learned there to which Gushue teams still adhere.
“We no longer eat steak during the week,” the skip said Friday at the Brandt Centre. “We went out for a steak dinner one night and we played a morning game after that and we played so poorly, but we were on fire all week. We haven’t had steak during the week ever since.”
“We had a great meal and probably ate too much and that’s why we were probably still full the next morning and played poorly.”
Gushue opened the 2024 Montana’s Brier on Friday evening against Nova Scotia’s Matt Manuel.
The Olympic gold medallist in 2006 and bronze medallist in 2022 returns to Regina in pursuit of a second title in that city and a career sixth for the skip, third Mark Nichols and lead Geoff Walker.
The three men can equal Randy Ferbey’s records of six Brier wins and three consecutive titles.
“It’s more about just being the champion this week and being the team that’s hoisting that Tankard trophy,” Gushue said. “It’s that moment that I’m going for. Not the three in a row or six. Those things don’t really matter that much to me.
“Our legacy is kind of cemented really, to be honest with you with what we’ve achieved so far from the province that we live in, in winning an Olympics, winning a bronze medal at the Olympics and five Briers
“I don’t think it’s going to change too much now. It’s just for that personal satisfaction of having that really cool moment of winning and, you know, the party after.”
The Brier’s 18-team field includes seven teams ranked in the country’s top 10.
Under new Curling Canada criteria for the national championship, Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher and Manitoba’s Matt Dunstone knew last year they were entered based on their ranking at the end of the 2022-23 season.
Like Gushue, Bottcher and Dunstone planned their seasons around peaking for Regina. Dunstone lost 7-5 to Gushue in the 2023 final in London, Ont.
Four-time champion Kevin Koe of Alberta and host Saskatchewan skipped by Mike McEwen are also teams to watch in Regina.
“Very tough,” was Gushue’s assessment of his 2024 competition. “There’s seven teams here that I think have a really true, legitimate chance of winning. And then you never know. There’s some really good teams, that if everything falls into place, can end up being in the playoffs, especially with this format.”
The top three teams in each pool of nine advance to the first round of playoffs. Tiebreaker games have been eliminated from the format to fall in line with world championships and Olympic Games.
Head-to-head results are the first tiebreaker, followed by cumulative scores in the draw-the-button that precedes each game.
A five-way tie at 4-4 for the final playoff spot was solved by the latter formula at the recent Canadian women’s championship in Calgary.
The four Page playoff teams will emerge from the group of six. The winner March 10 represents Canada at the men’s world championship March 30 to April 7 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and returns to the 2025 Montana’s Brier in Penticton, B.C.
The victor also claims the first berth in the 2025 Olympic trials pending a top-six result at the world championship.
Gushue went 12-1 en route to victory in 2018. His teams have won a lot of big games since then, but Nichols recalls the “flow” state they were in, in which they felt they couldn’t miss a shot in Regina.
“I’d love to feel that way again,” Nichols said. “As you go into events, you get a good feel for the ice and you can see yourself making shots. Brad gets a good feel of where to put the broom and then it kind of feels easy. As athletes, you try to get into the zone or find that flow. When you do find it, you just try to ride it. You know it’s not going to stay forever.
“Lucky for us, in that event, and you rewind to the world championships the year before, when we played we were kind of in that moment. You just ride it as long as you can and hope it lasts through the event.
“Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it does. That Brier in ’18 was one of those.”