Yes, Briers have become much more of an “anyone can beat anyone else” affair, but creeping parity aside, when Brad Gushue and Newfoundland and Labrador squared off with the Northwest Territories Tuesday morning at Mile One Centre, it brought a 3-1 round-robin record into the contest while Jamie Koe’s team out of Yellowknife had been winless in its first four games.
Heading into the Brier, the Curling News, which has covered the sport since Diefenbaker was prime minister, pegged Gushue and Co. as 5:2 favourites to win it all, with the Territories far down the odds list at 20:1.
So when Koe’s team beat Gushue’s 8-4, stealing three in the 10th end to seal the victory, there were plenty of murmurs around Mile One.
That was in direct contrast to the cacophony of noise featured in Newfoundland’s other games.
“What got to me was the silence,” said Northwest Territories coach Terry Shea, a native of Harbour Grace. “The last few days, I heard how loud the crowds were when Brad played, and here in this game, they were so quiet most of the way through.
“I thought to myself, ‘I guess that means things were going to go good for us.’
“And they did.”
Shea says the Tuesday morning game fit in with Territories pre-Brier plans “to go as deep as we can. The deeper the games go, the better it is for us. It’s like we’re a thorn in (opponents’) sides, making them uncomfortable.”
Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker entered the Brier at the top of the Canadian team rankings, and with that high profile — especially with the event in St. John’s and especially knowing the hometown backing they’re receiving — Shea says every opponent will be especially “up” for matchups against Newfoundland.
Such was the case for the Territories Tuesday.
“You know going in you have to play a great game. I know our guys were ready. We talked about it, about how we knew we would have to be really sharp (for Newfoundland), but I don’t know how much talking you really have to do.
“The motivation is always going to be there for these kinds of games.”
Jamie Koe is far from a blushing Brier rookie. This is his 11th Canadian men’s curling championship and he made it to the playoff round in 2012, a year when he also beat Gushue in the round robin. But geography means the Territories team doesn’t see much action on the World Curling Tour — it entered only two events this year.
To try and counter that shortfall, Shea has fashioned a special sheet of ice in Yellowknife and has a particularly sharpened set of rocks to try and replicate Tour/arena conditions.
“We really try hard to get ice that’s similar to here. We’ve got five-and-half feet of swing. It helps, but the thing about arena ice is that it’s so weight sensitive, that to learn it properly, you have to be playing on it all the time.
“Otherwise, making those in-between shots can be a struggle, getting those rolls that you need, things that Gushue and those other top teams are so good at.
“There is such an exactness here,” said Shea. “You miss somewhere else by a quarter of an inch, you might get away with it. If you do that here, you’re not making the shot the way you want.
“There is absolutely no forgiveness.”
Shea offered as an example the Territories' 10-3 loss to Alberta in Tuesday afternoon play.
“We struggled with the rocks. Couldn’t figure them out. It only takes a little to make a big difference."