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Like Old Times: Harnden brothers reunite on Canadian team at world curling playdowns

OTTAWA — The Harnden brothers — Ryan and E.J. — cut a familiar pose Friday during a team practice session at TD Place on the eve of the world men's curling championship.
Canadian second E.J. Harnden speaks with his brother Canadian alternate Ryan Harnden (right) following a practice session at the World Curling Championship, Friday, March 31, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — The Harnden brothers — Ryan and E.J. — cut a familiar pose Friday during a team practice session at TD Place on the eve of the world men's curling championship.

Just like they did for a decade as one of the top front ends in the sport, they hovered over the stones together on the pebbled ice — this time reuniting as teammates on the Canadian side skipped by Brad Gushue.

"It has been an easy transition and they've made me feel welcome," said Ryan, who's on board as an alternate. "That always makes it easy on me, a new guy coming in. Obviously E.J. and I have a great relationship. We're brothers and best friends. 

"It does feel like old times being with him."

The siblings from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., won a Brier title and world silver in 2013 with skip Brad Jacobs before capping a memorable yearlong run by winning gold at the Sochi Olympics.

Like many top Canadian teams, the Jacobs squad disbanded in last year's off-season. Ryan would later join Matt Dunstone's new-look squad out of Manitoba while E.J. filled a vacancy on Gushue's rink out of St. John's, N.L.

The teams met in the recent national final in London, Ont., with Gushue topping Dunstone 7-5. It was believed to be the first time that two brothers played against each other in a Brier championship game. 

A few days later, Ryan accepted an offer to join the Gushue side as a fifth at the world championship. He checked in with his team and they fully supported the one-off move.

"It's the nice and unique thing about our sport and it shows the respect that we have for wearing the Maple Leaf and representing our country," E.J. said. 

"It's about the larger team, which is Team Canada, and wanting to position ourselves well to win."

Sporting crisp black Canada outfits, the brothers were joined by Gushue, lead Geoff Walker, vice Mark Nichols and coaches Caleb Flaxey and Jeff Stoughton for the one-hour practice session. 

Canada opens round-robin play Saturday afternoon against Switzerland's Yannick Schwaller before facing Italy's Joel Retornaz in the evening. The top six teams in the 13-team field will make the playoffs.

Gushue, who won world gold in 2017, settled for silver last year in Las Vegas when he fell to four-time defending champion Niklas Edin of Sweden.

"They're a great team and they've only gotten better over the last couple of years," Gushue said. 

Other expected contenders include Scotland's Bruce Mouat, American John Shuster and Norway's Magnus Ramsjfell. Medal games are scheduled for April 9.

E.J. actually served as Gushue's fifth at last year's world championship. He got to wear Canada colours again at the Brier since the team had an automatic entry as defending champs.

"It felt great to wear the Maple Leaf at the Brier but it was a little different because I wasn't a part of that (2022) win," he said. "Now I get to wear it as part of a winning team so it's pretty cool."

Barring injury, Ryan will likely only see ice time this week during practice sessions or if he comes on as a substitute in a blowout. 

He'll need to stay game-ready just in case and will be tasked with rock-matching and a variety of off-ice duties.

"It's just all those little things to make sure the team feels comfortable and prepared," E.J. said. "Basically eliminating the things that we as athletes have to think about and have to worry about. 

"Ryan can do that quite easily and he's been doing a great job already."

After falling to Gushue in the 2017 world final in Edmonton, Edin won the rematch a year later in Las Vegas and beat the Canadian again at the same Orleans Arena last spring.

The Harnden brothers, meanwhile, are eager to get another crack at a world title after falling to Edin in the 2013 final in B.C.

"We had the luxury of playing in front of a Canadian crowd in Victoria," Ryan said. "It's nice to have a full barn behind you with everyone cheering for you. It's exciting and an honour. 

"I'm grateful to be here with these guys."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2023. 

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press