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Michael Burns/Curling Canada — Brad Gushue checks the line on a shot by teammate Val Sweeting (not shown) as John Epping and Sherry Middaugh look on during a preliminary-round game at the Canadian mixed doubles Olympic trials in Portage la Prairie, Man., on Wednesday. Gushue and Sweeting won 10-8 for their first win at the event.
Michael Burns/Curling Canada — Brad Gushue checks the line on a shot by teammate Val Sweeting (not shown) as John Epping and Sherry Middaugh look on during a preliminary-round game at the Canadian mixed doubles Olympic trials in Portage la Prairie, Man., on Wednesday. Gushue and Sweeting won 10-8 for their first win at the event.

Mixed doubles trials provide an alternate route to Olympics for world champion skip and his teammates

It may be considered gimmicky to some (most?) casual observers, but the mixed doubles game might be the future for curling across the country.

“It’s huge in Europe,” said reigning Brier and world champion Brad Gushue of St. John’s, “and if they make a few adjustments to the game, in my opinion, I think it could be the future for curling.

“People are so restricted on time these days that if you can go down to your club on a Wednesday night and play a game with your husband or wife or a friend, and be in and out in 90 minutes, that’s pretty good,” he said, noting a normal curling game will take anywhere from two-and-a-half to three hours.

“That’s why golf is struggling, because it takes so long.”

Gushue is currently in Portage la Prairie, Man., taking part with 17 other teams at the Olympic Mixed Doubles Curling Trials.

Gushue is partnered with Edmonton’s Val Sweeting, a skip who twice (2014 and ’15) finished second at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts Canadian women’s championship.

Added to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic program for the first time, a mixed doubles game lasts eight ends, with each team playing five rocks. The sixth rocks for both teams are positioned by the team with hammer before the start of an end.

Gushue isn’t the only curler from his team competing in Portage la Prairie. Mark Nichols is teamed up with Jennifer Jones, Brett Gallant and girlfriend Jocelyn Peterman — the top-ranked team in the event — are vying for a trip to South Korea, as are Geoff Walker and his fiancé, Laura Crocker.

“I really like the chances of someone from our team going to the Olympics,” he said prior to Wednesday’s second day of competition. “Brett and Jocelyn are, in my opinion, one of the favourites, if not the favourite. Geoff and Laura have had success and now with Mark joining up with Jennifer, she’s probably played more mixed doubles than anybody with her and (husband) Brent Laing.

“I think Val and I have the worst chance on our team,” he joked, referring to fact both are skips and have very little sweeping experience.

“To be honest, up until the team Trials, I was looking at the mixed curling half-hearted because I really felt our best opportunity to get to the Olympics was as a team… This was, to describe it 100 per cent honestly, a fall-back. But I’m all-in now.”

Brad Gushue

It’s the first curling competition for the Gushue team since the Canadian Olympic Trials before Christmas in Ottawa.

The Newfoundland and Labrador team, which was ranked No. 1 heading into the Trials, lost in the semifinals to Winnipeg’s Mike McEwan.

“To be honest, up until the team Trials, I was looking at the mixed curling half-hearted because I really felt our best opportunity to get to the Olympics was as a team,” Gushue said. “I felt our odds were good, and my best chance to get to the Olympics.

“This was, to describe it 100 per cent honestly, a fall-back. But I’m all-in now.”

Today, Nichols plays Gallant in one game, while Gushue and Walker will meet on the same sheet of ice.

“It is different,” Gushue said of playing his teammates in mixed doubles. “But we played a mixed doubles event earlier this year against Brett and Geoff.

“I think they probably want to beat me a whole lot more than I want to beat them just because I’m the skip. But maybe I can up the intensity a little bit with the Olympics on the line.”

 

rshort@thetelegram.com

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