You couldn’t really blame Brad Gushue if he has some mixed feelings about the Canadian Beef Masters, the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling event that begins today in Truro, N.S.
On the positive side, Gushue and teammates Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker are defending Masters champions, having defeated Sweden’s Niklas Edin rink in the final of the 2017 event in Lloydminster, Sask. As well, the St. John’s rink has had a solid start to the new season, winning its first competition this fall, the Elite 10 Grand Slam event, and following up with a runner-up showing in the China Open, halfway around the world in Chongqing, losing to Dimitri Mironov’s Russian entry 9-8 on Sunday.
But then there’s the matter of three years ago, the last time the Masters was held in Truro.
On Oct. 31, 2015, in the fourth end of a Masters quarter-final game against Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock, Gushue slipped on the ice and did a face plant, suffering a gash over his right eye.
After getting seven stitches, Gushue returned to action three ends later — too quickly, he would admit — and finished the contest, which ended in a Laycock victory. But afterwards, when the adrenalin flow slowed down, the Newfoundland skip began experiencing concussion-like symptoms.
As a result what was the first serious injury of his curling career, Gushue was sidelined almost two weeks, needing massage and physiotherapy, and time for his eye, which had swollen shut, to improve.
Gushue has shown himself to be able to perform despite the lingering effects of injury. He was troubled by hip and groin problems the last couple of years, enough to have missed more playing time during the 2016-17 season, but still came away with two Brier Canadian men’s championships and the world men’s title in 2017 (he and his rinkmates were runners-up to Edin at the 2018 worlds).
Teams were invited to this year’s Masters based on the World Curling Tour’s Order of Merit. In addition, there are sponsor’s exemptions in both the men’s and women’s divisions, filled by a couple of Nova Scotia rinks, Jamie Murphy’s men’s team from Halifax and the defending world junior women’s curling champions, skipped by Kaitlyn Jones.
Both men’s and women’s divisions are split into three five-team pools, with teams playing four round-robin games against the teams within their pools. The top eight overall on each side advance to the playoffs, which begin Saturday. The finals are Sunday afternoon
In the preliminary rounds, Gushue and Co. are lined up against Winnipeg rinks skipped by Reid Carruthers and Jason Gunnlaugson; the Saskatchewan-based entry skipped by another Manitoba native, Matt Dunstone; and 2018 Olympic men’s champion John Shuster of the United States.
Given it needed to travel more than 10,000 kilometres from China to Nova Scotia, the Gushue rink is getting a break in that its first game at the Masters isn’t until Wednesday evening, when it faces the Dunstone rink.
Not surprisingly, given their high profile, Gushue and his teammates are scheduled in evening draws for three consecutive days, with their fourth game on Thursday noon (NT) against Shuster, which also happens to be when televised coverage of the event begins on Sportsnet.
Jennifer Jones is the defending women’s champion of the Masters, which has a $250,000 purse.