Sweeting and Gushue off to the Mixed Doubles final
Val Sweeting and Brad Gushue are one win away from representing Canada at the 2018 Winter Olympics. The duo will face the winner of Saturday night's semifinal Sunday afternoon. (Aaron Wilgosh/The Graphic)
Ted Wyman - Winnipeg Sun
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-year-old Hayley Gushue.
Back home in St. John’s, N.L. over the Christmas holiday, Brad was feeling blase 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,” Gushue 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 under-prepared. It is just the third mixed doubles event he has played in his career.
It’s hard to believe either he or Sweeting really felt 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.”
The turning point came in Draw 8 on Wednesday morning.
Sweeting and Gushue were winless and playing Sherry Middaugh and John Epping when Sweeting made a huge double takeout to help them to a 10-8 win. They have won eight of their nine games since.
“Once Val made that double against John, the juices got going, the excitement got going and I got pretty pumped to get out there and play,” said Gushue, the 2006 men’s Olympic champion and reigning world men’s champion. “My personal play level elevated since that point and Val has been steady all week.”
Sweeting made two brilliant shots to clinch the 1-2 game win over Lawes and Morris. They 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.
“I thought Brad was setting up really good ends, I just struggled with my last one a couple of times,” said Sweeting, who lives in Edmonton. “I just said ‘Keep setting it up and I’ll make my last one and it will be good’ and fortunately we got a couple of opportunities.
“After we won (Friday) night it kind of hit me a little bit. ‘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 — the double against John Epping earlier in the week got us out of a big bind when we were 0-2 and that kind of turned our week around,” Gushue said. “And then that triple today was key. She threw that real good and halfway down the sheet I knew it was made. I wanted to celebrate early but I didn’t want to lose it so I waited until top-12 to say ‘Atta girl.’ It was a great shot and a great throw.”
Gushue and Sweeting have emerged as the clear 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 five more bowed out in the double-knockout playoffs.
Among those losing Saturday were Jennifer Jones and Mark Nichols, Jill Officer and Reid Carruthers and Chelsea Carey and Colin Hodgson.
Still alive and looking for a chance to play Gushue and Sweeting in the final were Lawes and Morris and Jocelyn Peterman and Brett Gallant.
The latter two teams were playing in the semifinal Saturday night at Stride Place.
It’s an interesting final three teams. Sweeting and Gushue are both skips, Lawes and Morris are thirds and Peterman and Gallant are seconds.
“The game is so fast-paced 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.”
Gushue has been through all this before.
He won the men’s Olympic trials in 2005 when nobody thought he could do it. His perspective is much different now.
“I’m a much different person and much different player than I was back then,” he said. “I was high-strung and life was centred around curling. For me right now, curling is secondary, next to my family and all the other stuff that you have when you’re growing up. I don’t define myself by curling, whereas I did when I was 25 years old. Win or lose tomorrow, it’s not going to change my life in any way. I don’t feel the pressure that I felt at 25 to prove myself any more.”
It’s different for Sweeting however. The 30-year-old mother to one son has never won a major championship.
“I’ve never been to the Olympics,” she said. “I’ve come close to winning the Scotties a couple of times. It would mean a lot to get there. Curling is high on my list but I have a son at home, so of course, he’s No. 1.”
What advice might Gushue have for his partner on the eve of this huge game?
“She knows how to handle it,” he said. “We’ll go out and have a few drinks tonight and relax. That’s the way we’ve handled it all along.”