Down to the fi­nal

Sweet­ing, Gushue book their spot af­ter a lit­tle help from his daugh­ter

Sunday Sports - - SPORTS - TED WY­MAN twyman@post­media.com @Ted_Wy­man

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.”

MICHAEL BURNS PHOTO

Brad Gushue and Val Sweet­ing are headed to the Olympic mixed dou­bles trial fi­nal.

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