Well, of course the 2017 Brier came down to a moment like that. How could it not?
After a 45 year absence, the Canadian men’s curling championship came back from away to be hosted in St. John’s, Newfoundland & Labrador. Fittingly, it was won by a skip who had championed his city and province as being too long kept out in the cold when it came to being considered a suitable place to hold it.
“It’s gonna be a deep night, I’m sure,” a giddy Brad Gushue told TSN right after his team’s hometown victory, just the province’s second ever Brier win and Gushue’s first. You’d have to expect there would be long lines up and down George Street, with grateful locals waiting for their chance to touch The Tankard.
Gushue, I’m sure, can’t imagine things being any better, especially his team’s “oh me nerves” 7-6 win over a very game defending champion Team Canada rink. He and his teammates – third Mark Nichols, Second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker – had eyes on being Team Canada, themselves, for this Brier, but had those hopes dashed in last year’s final when they lost to the same team, in Ottawa.
In retrospect, I’m sure they wouldn’t disagree that winning in this place and in this time turned out to be a whole bunch sweeter. Here’s the moment, as recorded by Gerry Geurts at CurlingZone.com:
A week and a half of festival and sport, of celebration and adoration, coming down to a jam-packed Mile One Centre crowd on its feet, feeding all of its hopeful energy into sweepers Gallant and Nichols, absolutely willing them to drag Gushue’s final stone for every inch it had, until it rested in the eight-foot, just out-counting a stone that had been placed there by Team Canada’s remarkable comeback artist and skip, Kevin Koe.
A place that had been bananas over and over throughout the week for Team Newfoundland & Labrador, might have well been an actual part of the victory with that roaring, and that was something Walker alluded to on day one. “By the end of the week, we’re gonna be a little bit sore and a little bit tired but I think the crowd’s only gonna help us get that extra bit of strength and energy in every shot,” he had said after his team’s first game on the opening Saturday.
On Gushue’s final draw, an injured Walker got out of the way as a hard-charging Nichols rushed down the ice from the far house in order to join in with Gallant’s feverish brushing. Good thing he did. Walker’s reportedly injured shoulder would likely have prevented him from mustering up his usual force and then… well, would that rock have made it to the eight-foot and victory?
It did, though, and the celebration was on, Gushue tossing his broom in the air and gathering with his mates in an emotional hug. I wonder if he imagined that moment, just as it was, when he tweeted this out four years ago, signalling the beginning of an endeavour that would culminate in one of the most memorable Briers of the modern era.
— Brad Gushue (@BradGushue) March 8, 2013
The crescendo moment, in all its perfect anticipation and panic, didn’t seem to be in the cards, early in this game. Gushue’s squad had picked Team Canada’s pocket for three in the second end and then led 5-1 after five ends, and there was a building feeling that there would be no drama in this one, just a methodical running out of ends to an inevitable conclusion.
That, however, is when we got another reminder, 24 hours after the previous one, that Koe and his teammates Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert are never out of a game. They staged a furious comeback, keyed by an unconscious shot by Koe, who fired a bomb straight down the stripe in the sixth end, unlocking a cluster of stones in a dizzying display of curling power and precision. Somehow – somehow– he scored three on the shot and left me wondering how no rocks exploded like in that scene in the movie “Men With Brooms.” I’d say that it’s a challenge that should be added to the Hot Shots competition at next year’s Brier, but that might not be fair if Koe is taking part.
“This is Kevin Koe,” said TSN analyst Cheryl Bernard soon after the shot. “He just never goes away.”
As they did the night before – scrambling back from a 5-2 deficit against what appeared to be an unalterable Manitoba foursome – Team Canada roared back and they tied the thing up at 5 after stealing one in the seventh end. After Newfoundland & Labrador was forced to one in the eighth, it was Gushue’s turn to be ridiculous when he picked out a Team Canada shot rock that was showing a sliver – and I mean a sliver – behind a cluster of his own stones, in the four-foot.
On a night of remarkable shooting, Koe’s sixth end miracle and Gushue’s ninth end razor will remain unforgettable. Starting from 125 feet away, give or take, from the spot they needed to hit, Gushue and Koe nailed targets that were an inch or two wide, with little to no margin for error. Tell that to someone the next time they say “it looks easy, anybody could curl.”
I’m sure if we’d polled the faithful in the arena before and during the early stages of the game, they’d have told us that a Team Gushue walkover would have suited them just fine. When things got nervous in the late stages and it seemed as though the scripted ending was in danger of going all Game of Thrones shocking, they most definitely would have told you they could do without all the drama, the threat of bitter disappointment hanging over their heads. Gushue and his teammates might have preferred that as well, as coming so close to a dream ending and being denied would have no doubt stung like nothing has stung them before.
But you know what? This Brier deserved the evaporated lead. It deserved the nerve-racking build to a climax and the eruption that ensued. It deserved to be in doubt right down to the very last pass of a frantic sweeper’s brush.
It was a wild and wonderful ten days in St. John’s, just like Brad Gushue said it would be when he first insisted, four years ago, that it was high time for the Brier to return. The people of St. John’s welcomed it back, warmly, presenting a great gift to the sport and its fans, day after day after day.
In return and in the end, they got a nice one right back.