OTTAWA — Sin City wasn't kind to Canadian skip Brad Gushue. He's hoping a return to the nation's capital will work more in his favour.
After settling for silver in his last two trips to the world men's curling championship in Las Vegas, Gushue will try to get back to the top of the podium at the 2023 playdowns starting Saturday at TD Place.
"If we can really just enjoy it and ride that wave, I think good things can happen," Gushue said. "But it's a challenge. It's a lot easier said than it is done. So we'll see if we can make it work."
Gushue and teammates Mark Nichols, E.J. Harnden and Geoff Walker secured their berth earlier this month with a victory over Manitoba's Matt Dunstone in the Brier final at London, Ont.
It will be Gushue's fourth career appearance at the world men's championship. He took gold in Edmonton in 2017 but fell to Sweden's Niklas Edin in 2018 and again last spring at the Orleans Arena, just off the Vegas strip.
The always quotable Gushue didn't mince words after the 2022 loss. He said there were noticeable ridges on the sheet, calling it the "worst ice" he's ever curled on at a major championship.
Conditions should be better at the 9,500-seat TD Place with veteran icemaker Dave Merklinger serving as chief ice technician.
"Fortunately I think for us this time around, being in Canada, we're not going to see scraper marks going down the ice and the things that we've had to experience abroad in the last couple years," Gushue said.
His squad will also get a boost as the home team. Gushue is popular wherever he plays in this country and Ottawa should be no exception.
"I think when we let the crowd get into the game and play to the crowd a little bit — whether (it's) good shots, everything that happens — this team plays better," Nichols said.
"We can use that momentum as an extra player on our team."
The top-ranked Edin will be looking for a seventh career world title. Other competition headliners include Joel Retornaz of Italy, Scotland's Bruce Mouat, Switzerland's Yannick Schwaller and American John Shuster.
Canada will play round-robin games Saturday against Switzerland and Italy. The top six teams in the 13-team field will make the playoffs.
Other entries include Norway's Magnus Ramsjfell, Lukas Klima of the Czech Republic, Anton Hood of New Zealand, Ugurcan Karagoz of Turkey, Germany's Sixten Totzek, South Korea's Byeongjin Jeong and Japan's Riku Yanagisawa.
Canada's Kerri Einarson took bronze at the recent world women's curling championship in Sandviken, Sweden. Switzerland's Silvana Tirinzoni repeated as champion.
Gushue said curlers had challenges with ice speed and paths at that event as well.
"That just creates a lot of uncertainty and a lack of confidence in being able to make shots at certain times," Gushue said on a pre-event video call. "For certain teams and their style of play, it will benefit them more than others. Obviously I think it hurt Kerri over there in those ice conditions."
Gushue won Olympic gold in 2006 and returned to the Winter Games last year in Beijing with a lineup that included Nichols, Walker and Brett Gallant.
Gallant left the team at the end of the season and Harnden was named his replacement at second. Ryan Harnden of Team Dunstone is on board as an alternate and Caleb Flaxey is team coach.
The Harnden brothers and Flaxey (as alternate) won Olympic gold at the 2014 Sochi Games with skip Brad Jacobs. That team won its lone Brier the year before and took silver at the 2013 world championship in Victoria.
"I'll never forget one of the first games that we played, we just slid out for a pre-game practice and the arena was already full and there was a massive roar," E.J. said. "I was like, 'This is amazing.' I'll never forget that. We're so grateful to have this opportunity again."
Ottawa was originally scheduled to host the men's worlds in 2021, but the event was held in the Calgary bubble instead due to the COVID-19 pandemic. TD Place also hosted the 2016 Brier.
The top two teams will get automatic semifinal berths. Teams ranked third to sixth will play qualification games to join them in the final four.
Ties will be broken by head-to-head results or pre-game last shot draw distances. Semifinal winners will play for gold on April 9 and semifinal losers will play for bronze.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press