Down to the final
Sweeting, Gushue book their spot after a little help from his daughter
PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. — If Brad Gushue and Val Sweeting can win one more game and punch a ticket to the Olympics to represent Canada in mixed doubles curling, they’ll have to give a shout out to 10-yearold Hayley Gushue.
Back home in St. John’s, N.L., over the Christmas holidays, Brad was feeling blasé about the prospects of playing in the Canadian Olympic mixed doubles curling trials this week.
He was inexperienced at the game, was still feeling dejected about his team losing at the men’s Olympic trials in December and wasn’t motivated to get ready for mixed doubles.
It was Hayley who helped him start getting prepared by insisting they watch some mixed doubles games together to bone up on the strategy.
“She enjoys watching this,” Brad said Saturday after he and Sweeting booked a spot in Sunday’s final with a 9-4 win over Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris.
“I don’t watch much curling and if she hadn’t been laying there with me, I probably wouldn’t have done it. So she helped me study.
“I wasn’t much of a studier in school either. She forced me to watch a few games and I learned a little bit and certainly it has paid some value.”
Gushue arrived at the mixed doubles trials still feeling underprepared. It is just the third mixed doubles event he has played in his career.
It’s hard to believe either he or Sweeting really believed it would be possible to be one win away from a trip to South Korea at this point.
“My biggest concern was getting through the round robin,” Gushue said. “I’m not going to lie. Coming into the week I still didn’t have all the motivation to play. I was still a little disappointed in how the team trials went and I don’t think my preparation was quite where I wanted it to be and obviously that showed with an 0-2 start.”
Sweeting and Gushue will face Lawes and Morris again in Sunday’s final at 2:30 p.m. at Stride Place (CBC TV). The winner will represent Canada n in the mixed doubles Olympic tournament, which starts Feb. 8 in PyeongChang.
Lawes and Morris, both Olympic gold medallists in team curling, beat Jocelyn Peterman and Brett Gallant 7-3 in Saturday night’s semifinal.
Lawes won gold in 2014 as the third for Jennifer Jones, Morris as third for Kevin Martin in 2010. Morris also lost the 2013 team Olympic trials final to Brad Jacobs.
“It’s exciting … to be in a trials final in Manitoba is pretty special and I’m really, really thrilled to have this opportunity,” Lawes said. “The dream for the last four years has been to get back to the Olympics with my girls and we believed and put everything into the plan and just came a couple games short. Now we’ve changed the focus and I’m so happy to be playing in (Sunday’s) final.”
At this time last month, Lawes wasn’t even on a mixed doubles team. When Rachel Homan won the women’s Olympic trials, Morris had to get a new partner for the mixed doubles and he picked Lawes as the replacement.
“She was my No. 1 choice for sure,” Morris said. “I got lucky that she was still a free agent.”
Sweeting made two brilliant shots to clinch the 1-2 game win over Lawes and Morris. Her team trailed 4-2 in the fifth when she used her last rock to pick out a Lawes/ Morris stone and score four.
Then in the next end, she executed a perfect triple that forced Lawes to try to draw for one. That draw barely made the hog line and Sweeting/ Gushue stole two more points.
“After we won (Friday) night it kind of hit me a little bit,” Sweeting said. ‘Holy, we could win this thing.’ Not that we didn’t think we could win before but it all just kind of became real.”
Gushue gave a lot of credit to his partner for their success.
“She has made a hell of a lot of great shots this week,” Gushue said. “That triple today was key.”
Gushue and Sweeting have emerged as favourites from an original field that included many Olympic and world champions. Ten teams were weeded out of the mix in the round robin and six more bowed out in the playoffs.
Among those losing Saturday were Jones and Mark Nichols, Jill Officer and Reid Carruthers, Chelsea Carey and Colin Hodgson and Peterman and Gallant.
Gushue believes his team’s curling experience and game-calling ability were difference makers.
“The game is so fastpaced and I think an advantage we have, being skips, is we are able to think through the strategy probably a little quicker than some other people,” Gushue said. “You see a lot of trouble (with people running out of time) out there. We really haven’t come into that at all this week, knock on wood. We’ve had ample time and I think that’s probably because we process it a little quicker because we’re used to doing it.”
Brad Gushue and Val Sweeting are headed to the Olympic mixed doubles trial final.