Brad Gushue celebrates after winning the 2005 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials in Halifax. (Photo: Andrew Vaughan/CP)

TBT: Oral history of 2005 Canadian curling trials

December 7, 2017, 12:07 PM

[Note: This article was originally published in December 2015 over three separate parts but is now presented here for the first time in one piece for Throwback Thursday (TBT).]

Dec. 11, 2015, marked the 10-year anniversary of Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Russ Howard, Jamie Korab and Mike Adam winning the 2005 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials to earn the right to represent Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

It was an unbelievable run at the Trials for a team deemed to have “no chance” — Gushue charged through the round-robin posting an 8-1 record against one of the toughest fields assembled and topped it all off with an 8-7 victory over Jeff Stoughton in the final.

Here is a reflection of that miracle week as told by those who were there on the ice.

Brad Gushue, Team Gushue, skip: Growing up since Mark moved down when he was 18 up until he moved away, we were really good friends. We were young and single at the time, well we had girlfriends but life was different at that point than it is now. We’ve always had a pretty good chemistry and it’s been a fun run.

Mark Nichols, Team Gushue, third: The dynamic between all of us was great. We had all played together through juniors and then sporadically after we came into men’s. Jamie went into men’s the year before myself and Brad and then Mike a year after us. We were on different teams for a few years there but we all were great friends and it was easy curling together.

Gushue had skipped Team Canada to the 2001 world junior curling title just four years prior. Although Team Gushue won the 2004 Canada Cup East to earn a spot at the Trials, had competed for Newfoundland and Labrador at the past three Brier tournaments and finished runner-up at the 2005 Players’ Championship, there was still something missing. That led to Gushue bringing two-time world champion Russ Howard, who was 49 years old at the time, on board as a fifth player.

Gushue: That came about actually at the end of the season before. I had a sit-down with our coach, Toby McDonald at the time, and I asked him the question, ‘Do you think we’re good enough right now to win the Olympic Trials with the team that we have?’ and his straight answer was no. It was the exact same feeling that I had and I said, ‘Well, what are we going to do about it?’ We talked about some names and maybe bringing someone in. Russ was the first one I thought of and suggested. When we talked about other names, every time we kept coming back to Russ. A few days later we gave him a call and asked if he’d be interested in coming on as a fifth, at that time, just to give us a security blanket so to speak, and he said yes.

Nichols: We realized that of all the things that we lacked going into the Olympic Trials that year was the experience of that big game. Russ is arguably one of the best curlers to ever play the game. He had been through every situation imaginable. We thought that experience and expertise would really add something to our team.

Brent Laing, Team Howard, second: Bringing in Russ certainly helped. I think his experience, just his steady shot-making, he played second but he just makes shot after shot after shot and it never hurts and he never makes too many bad strategy calls. Just a calming influence and bringing in three young guys, we were basically the same age as Brad so at that time bringing in somebody like that just adds so much confidence to the team and knowing that even if he’s not right, you think he’s right. The calls he’s making and just putting your faith in him, it worked out.

Marc Kennedy, Team Morris, second: Brad had nothing but success his whole junior career, he was a good skip and he was looking to break through. Russ was just the guy he needed to help him get over the edge.

Richard Hart, Team Howard, third: It was a huge game-changer, absolutely. I think it was a great decision by the team … that was the difference-maker for sure. They brought in a guy with tons of experience and that coupled with the youthful exuberance that Mark and Brad had and Jamie was just the perfect combination. I’ve heard Brad talk about how much he learned from Russ in the one, maybe one and a half years they played together. He credited Russ a lot in terms of the experience he brought to that team.

Glenn Howard, Team Howard, skip: Brad Gushue, even at that young age, was still an accomplished skip. What he had already done in the junior ranks was incredible and into the men’s. He was one of those teams that I don’t think anybody thought was going to win it but again he wasn’t the free space on the bingo card. You didn’t know if you’d go out and play him that you were going to win. Obviously to bring my brother on at that point was a huge catalyst and I think one of the big things that brought him over the top.

As the 2005-06 season progressed, Mike Adam volunteered to step aside to let Russ Howard play second stones and call the game.

Nichols: For (Mike) to do what he did was just amazing. You could argue that if it didn’t happen we probably wouldn’t be talking about this today. It was a very selfless act. Even when he did it, a lot of guys who would be put into that position and say they’d do it but Mike added so much to our team even though he may not have been throwing rocks. He did everything that we asked of him and without even having to be asked he was doing everything a member of the team would do. We wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for some of the stuff that he did.

Gushue: We started off the next season and things kind of kept going the same way they were going at the end of the season before and I knew it wasn’t kind of trending the way that we wanted it to. I think it was our third event that year in 2005 that I decided to make the switch. We brought Russ in and he played an event in Utica, New York. We went 5-1, we went through the round-robin undefeated and played really well and just got outplayed in the quarters. I felt this is right. This is the way we need to go. The decision was made at that point so we knew well in advance that at the Olympic Trials that Russ was going to be a part of it but we didn’t tell many people.

There was something else Gushue was keeping on the down-low as he was playing with a heavy heart with his mother battling cancer.

Gushue: It was a tough time for our family because my mother was going through cancer treatments and we kept it secret up until that week. It got leaked out and people made a big deal out of it but it was a good distraction for our whole family knowing that we were going to the Trials and then ultimately going to the Olympics. It kind of kept the focus off of the negative side of her treatment. Obviously we want to make sure she was okay, that was our number one priority, but you tend to dwell on stuff like that too much. I think the Olympic Trials and the Olympic experience helped us to not do that as a family.

Nichols: You never want to see a friend going through something like that with a family member. Curling was probably a bit of a getaway for Brad to try to just get away from everything that was going on, not that you want to get away from it but just get your mind off of things. We wanted to play well for him because his family was there and they had been through so much. At the end of the day, we all know someone who’s gone through that sort of thing, whether it’s a friend or a teammate or anything like that and you try to support him as much as you can. If they want to be left alone, they want to be left alone and if want support, they’ll ask for support. That’s kind of what we did as teammates. If he wanted to talk, we’d talk. If he didn’t want to talk about it, then we didn’t talk about it. We were there to support him through everything. It was an unfortunate situation that he was in and thank goodness now you look back 10 years ago and his mom is doing very well.

Entering the Trials with Russ Howard inserted into the lineup, Gushue was still considered a darkhorse pick to win.

Gushue: For us going into the Trials we were the underdogs. I don’t think anybody expected much of us going in there, except for us. We had geared up towards the Olympic Trials and once we got our spot in 2004, everything we did was geared towards those Trials and being as ready as we could. I think the big thing for us is we treated it like every event that we played leading up to the Trials where some other teams treated it like a more important event. We tried to have the same attitude and I think for us we were able to maintain our level of play going into that event where some other teams, some of the favourites I guess, kind of struggled during that week.

Hart: My personal thoughts were I wouldn’t rule anyone out. If you ranked the teams going into that week, Gushue would not have been near the top of the rankings by no means, but I played on a team in 1997 that is very comparable to that Gushue team. Going into the 1997 Trials, the Mike Harris team, the average curling fan probably would have had us ranked seven or eight out of 10, but we felt that we were better than that. We thought we were three, four, five or six. We had a lot of faith in ourselves and I’m sure that was the way Brad and his team felt going into the 2005 Trials. It’s a strange event in that when you’ve been around the game long enough you realize anybody can get hot and the rankings going into something like that really don’t play a part of it in who wins and who doesn’t.

While many had only thought about Team Gushue’s long odds, Jeff Stoughton was quoted in a newspaper article saying he believed Gushue had “no chance” at winning the Trials.

Gushue: He said what a lot of people were thinking. I think if you polled 95 percent of the people around the Trials they probably would have said we had no chance either. He just said it in the media. When I read the article before the Olympic Trials, I actually cut the article out and put it in the bottom of my bag and when I got undressed it was there at the bottom of my bag every time. It was a little bit of an extra motivation for sure and a little bit of karma I guess that we played him (in the final). There were no hard feelings, Jeff’s a great guy and they were a great team, a first-class team, he just said what everybody else was thinking and I respect that.

Nichols: We try not to think about it when you’re in the situation or in the moment but I believe that a lot of us used it as a bit of motivation and we wanted to prove that we belonged amongst those top teams so it added a little bit of fuel to that fire for us. No hard feelings, Jeff said something that every other player in the event probably, with the exception of us, was thinking. There were probably a lot more Canadian curling fans that were thinking the exact same thing. Jeff was just bold enough to say it. I don’t think there was any surprise when he said it. I don’t think we were favourites.

Laing: Going into the event they were a young team that really nobody expected much out of, including Jeff Stoughton, who made that famous quote that they had no chance to win. I don’t think many people would have said that but that was the feeling going in. If we weren’t the favourites, they were certainly not the favourites. They were picked to finish probably middle or even lower in the pack and it just didn’t go that way.

John Morris was just shy of his 27th birthday at the start of the 2005 Trials, but was already an accomplished skip entering the event. He was a two-time world junior champion and finished runner-up at the 2002 Brier playing with the likes of Craig Savill and Brent Laing in Ontario before he moved west to Alberta in 2003. His new crew featuring third Kevin Koe, second Marc Kennedy, and lead Paul Moffatt captured the Players’ Championship in 2004 and qualified for the Trials by finishing second at the Canada Cup later that year. Kennedy, who was 23 at the time of the Trials, shared how the team formed.

Kennedy: John decided to move to Alberta from Ontario. I was just coming out of juniors. I had played John in juniors a few times and the spring before he moved out here, the Players’ Championship was in Leduc, which is really close to where I live and I was lucky enough to play in it with Willie Lyburn. John and I had a beer there together and he talked about maybe moving out west and if I’d be interested in playing if he did and obviously I said yes. Then he decided to make the move. He’d been playing against Kevin Koe in men’s for a few years so that was a pretty natural fit. John was bringing his friend Paul out to live with him and Paul was a pretty good curler out of Ontario so that’s kind of how things came together. For being a pretty young team and being a little bit wild at the time we had some pretty good success.


Marc Kennedy, John Morris and Kevin Koe at the 2005 Canadian Olympic Trials in Halifax. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

Laing: That was an interesting team. At the time, Kevin Koe was playing third for John. Obviously they had done reasonably well, they won the Players’ Championship the year before. Coming in, again, they would have been in a similar boat to us: a team everyone knew could play really well but they weren’t favourites to win by any means. They would have been not a long shot for the playoffs, some teams would have picked them to make it, but most guys probably would not have picked them to make the playoffs, similar to us. Certainly looking back now you can see how much talent they had with John skipping and Kevin in third, Marc was playing second, and a good friend of mine, Paul Moffatt — who I went to university with, lived with and played university curling with — was playing lead and then on the bench was Benny Hebert. They certainly had the horses to win and they had a great week.

Gushue: They definitely had more of a chance going in than we did or people were giving them more of a chance. They had a lot more success with the team (than us). They had Kevin Koe, who was a few years older than we are and Marc Kennedy was around our age.

Kennedy: It was interesting. We had quite a different group of personalities. Kevin Koe and John Morris are quite different people but we had a goal of trying to get to the Olympics so that pointed us all in the right direction. Paul was a great team guy. Kevin and I got along immediately. John was a good leader. He was trying to get the best out of some young guys. The chemistry was actually really good. We had a lot of fun. We took it seriously and we wanted to win but we were young guys enjoying being on the road and on tour. We made sure we had a lot of fun along the way. That was no different at the Olympic Trials. That was an event where people were really starting to take the Olympics seriously and guys were taking the sport to a new level. We went into that event with the goal of having some fun and we did.

Nichols: Same as ours, tons of talent. They’re all still top players; three of the members of that team are still top players today. We had played a few of them in juniors. We knew that when you get into a situation like that, all of the players there, whether they’re young or old, they make all the shots it’s just kind of who does it at the right time. The talent is there, it doesn’t matter which player you can pick out from that event it’s really, really good.

Laing: It was quite the team and looking back at all of the different teams over the years and see a lot of the same names and see now just on different teams and those were the guys who have made it their priority to put in the time and effort in that’s necessary to play at the top level. That was certainly a great team and any team with Johnny Mo at the helm or even Johnny Mo on the team is fun to watch because everybody knows he never fails to entertain and he seems to always find a way to be in the mix coming into big events. No matter what team he plays on he finds a way to win those games and get into the big games. That was no different back then.

Morris’s former teammates weren’t left hanging in Ontario. Glenn Howard and Richard Hart were in need of a new front-end for the 2004-05 season and the first names that popped into their heads were Laing and Savill. Fortunately, they were just as eager to join. They were in their second season together and hadn’t even been to the Brier together yet, but the tour wins were starting to pile up and they earned their spot for the Trials by being ranked third on the Canadian Team Ranking System the previous season.

Glenn Howard: We didn’t really know each other that well, obviously Richie and I played several years together, but getting Brent and Craig into the mix was a big part of our success over the next 10 years but those first couple years it took a little while. We were still a little bit green. We had to get to know each other and get used to everyone’s nuances, deliveries and releases and that sort of thing. It was a beginning of a really great relationship and a hell of a good team.

Laing: We hit it off right away, we got along really well on and off the ice. We lucked out in how well we did get along. Obviously, we knew that Glenn and Rich got along and Craig and I had known each other for a long time and we got along but the four of us together even with the slight age difference with Rich being 10 years older and Glenn being 16 years older than Craig and I. So you never know. We had known Glenn and Rich on tour and thought they were great guys and otherwise we wouldn’t have wanted to play with them. It turned out great, the chemistry was just super easy right from day one. It’s what made that team special. We had a lot of success but that was a big reason for that success was how much respect we had for each other and how well we got along on and off the ice.

Hart: For our team in the 2005 Trials in Halifax we were still a new team. That was our second season together. Our team dynamics were terrific. We were having a great time playing together and we had a perfect mix of young, youthful players and older, experienced guys, but we were definitely unproven. We had not been to a Brier together or a worlds and that would have been our first major event together.

Glenn Howard: We knew that we had a really good squad and it was just a matter of proving it after that. You get some of that experience, the four of us together. You can’t just put four guys together and expect to win. You know you want to do that but you’ve really got to go out onto the ice and get used to each other, on and off, and that takes time. We did that. It took a little bit of time for us but we sort of proved that after it was all said and done.

Alternates and fifth players were a key part of the narrative surrounding the Trials with Gushue bringing in two-time world champion Russ Howard, who came in to play calling the game while throwing second stones. Glenn Howard went with the obvious call selecting former (and future) teammate Wayne Middaugh.

Glenn Howard: He’s a good buddy of mine. I had won a world championship with Wayne back in 1993. He had won a world championship as a skip in 1998. We’d been knocking heads for so many years. I curl with him every Tuesday night at home. I knew what he was made of. The beauty of Wayne is he’s probably the most versatile player out there. He can play any position and be good at it. So if I went down and I was hurt, one of the best skips in the world was going to come in to replace me and he could do that at any other position so that more or less was what I was thinking.

Hart: Wayne and Glenn are long-time friends. We brought Wayne thinking that he could help add some experience to our team. Unlike Gushue, who sort of had planned all along to bring Russ into the lineup, we had no plans of having Wayne being a playing fifth man. He was just there in case of injury.

Laing: Wayne’s experience and his talent as a player, if anything were to ever happen to one of us Wayne could come in and play anywhere and play well. At the time he was one of the best skips in the world still so it was a pretty easy decision. He’s really good buddies with Glenn and I think we thought it would be a great asset to have him around, a great guy to match rocks for us and scouting other teams if we wanted and obviously a great guy to fill in. I didn’t know Wayne that well at the time and neither did Craig, and he ended up being great for us and did everything you could ask of a fifth man. So it was a pretty easy decision. Anytime you can add somebody to the team with his resume and skills set, it’s a pretty easy call.

Meanwhile, Morris also added a familiar face: 22-year-old Ben Hebert, who was still playing in his home province of Saskatchewan.

Kennedy: Our choice for a fifth wasn’t as much about could we bring in a top-level player to help us out if we needed him. Not that Benny isn’t a top-level player but he wasn’t going to be stepping in to play back-end like a Russ Howard or a Wayne Middaugh. Ours was more about a chemistry thing. Ben had played with us at the Canada Cup earlier that year when Paul couldn’t be there and we had some success, we ended up losing in the semifinals to Kevin Martin, so Ben fit in really good with our team and that was the reason we chose him as a fifth.

The front-runners going into the Trials were a pair of Edmonton-based teams skipped by Randy Ferbey and Kevin Martin. Ferbey had won four of the past five Brier tournaments, plus three world titles, while Martin played with the same crew who was victorious at the previous Trials in 2001 and earned the silver medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics. Jeff Stoughton and Glenn Howard weren’t too far behind while Gushue, Morris, Jay Peachey, Pat Ryan, Mark Dacey and Shawn Adams were the darkhorses.

Kennedy: For us the thought was Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey were the two favourites for sure. Stoughty was really close to that top three and the rest of us we kind of fell into the same group of anybody can beat anybody so Brad was in that group with us. We were probably the bottom three ranked teams at the time: Brad, ourselves, and Jay Peachey, it was going to be a challenge for him to do well. We kind of grouped the rest of those guys together and thought if we could beat those teams and if we lose to Kevin and Randy we’d still end up with a pretty good record. So it was really interesting to see how things played out, very interesting.

Nichols: They were the best teams in the country at the time. You could make the argument for any team at that event. A lot of them had won Briers, been to the Brier finals, that sort of thing. Kevin and Randy, they’re two of the best players to have ever played the game as well. You would have to think that they were the favourites going into that event.

Laing: I think at the time we would have been kind of middle of the pack. I don’t think many teams expected us to win the Trials. We were still a fairly new team and still trying to find our way. We hadn’t even been to a Brier yet; Glenn hadn’t been to a Brier as a skip yet. We had some success in our first year getting to some finals and I think by then we had won in Gander. Obviously that earned us our spot into the Trials but going in, certainly the four of us, the five of us including Wayne, and coach Scott Taylor, we had a very good chance of making the playoffs and winning. I mean, that’s why we played and that’s what our goal was putting the team together was we wanted to win those Trials and get into the Olympics. But going in at that time, no, we certainly weren’t the favourites.

Glenn Howard: You’ve got the best-of-the-best and somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. Not all of the top teams are going to end up with winning records and that’s what you have to realize when you’re going into that sort of week. Strange things happen when it becomes a national championship or obviously for the Olympics, to go to the Olympics. It plays a little bit harder on your nerves, it’s a different dynamic. Some of the top teams didn’t do so well and sometimes that happens.

Laing: The Olympic Trials is just such a different event than anything else. It’s exactly the same as the Canada Cup in the format, the time of year and everything else but the feel of it and the tension there and just how different it is from any other event — you can definitely feel it walking into the building, even at the pre-event meeting and at how all of the games, the intensity is different, guys are tighter than normal. In general, you don’t see the shot-making that you see in normal curling with the same teams. The pressure is just that intense. When it comes to Canada and getting to not just the world championship but the Olympic championship and the Olympics is so different. You always have the best teams in Canada. Whereas at the Brier you might have four or five of the best, at the Olympic Trials those are the best teams leading into those Olympics, the best teams in Canada, and most often the best teams in the world. It’s a different event, lots of pressure and lots of crazy things happen there. I’ve been on the wrong end of a couple crazy ones just giving up some big ends, but it’s just a totally different experience and one that’s a lot of fun to play in but it just can’t really be explained.

The 2005 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials got the juggernaut meeting out of the way early with front-runners Randy Ferbey and Kevin Martin facing off in the first men’s draw. Martin scored four in the seventh end and held on to win 8-5, but neither team got on a roll and finished out of the playoffs with identical 4-5 records.

Laing: It was the Ferbey-Martin Trials that year and that was what everybody wanted to talk about. As what quite often happens in the Trials it didn’t turn out that way at all. They didn’t have good weeks. They played each other in the first game of the week and from there neither team played all that well.

Kennedy: As you’ve seen over the years at the Olympic Trials funny things happen. There’s a lot of pressure on the teams and you need to have a good week. I remember Kevin played Randy in the first game and there was so much hype and so much on the line for that one game I think it took a lot out of both of those teams. Kevin won the game, Randy lost and then both teams were never really the same for the rest of the week, which made it open for anyone else to win it. Brad certainly stepped up and played really well that week.

Hart: Both of those teams had bad weeks and it’s hard to put your finger on why that was but they drew each other first game and I think the two of them were both so focused on that first game. There may have been a letdown by both of them afterwards. … Ferbey started 1-2 and never got better after that.

Gushue, with Russ Howard in the game, opened the Trials with a 9-7 victory over Glenn Howard in a match pitting brother against brother. Team Howard scored a three-ender in six to grab a 6-4 advantage but it was all Gushue from there as he took two in seven to tie it and stole a pair in eight for the lead.

Laing: We played Gushue first, which was a little bit odd because Russ came in to play. We made a strategy error where we, especially Craig and I, talked Glenn into playing a shot in I think the seventh end we shouldn’t have played and Gushue made a good one on his last and end up getting a deuce there and kind of took control of the game but we were still learning how to perform at that level as a team.

Hart: It was a close game, we were tied with hammer playing eight and gave up a two-steal in eight and they went on to win the game. It’s funny when you look back at that one end and how huge it was for us and how our week went and how huge it was for Gushue and how their week went. If we had went on to take one in that eighth end or even take two and win that game, Brad’s week might have been totally different and our week might have been totally different but that’s what curlers do. We look back at things after the fact and you can never tell but I can say that most of the events that have been successful for myself and our team usually start with a win in that first game so we always feel like that first game is so important and I can only imagine a young team like Gushue winning that first game against us was a real jump-start for them.

Glenn Howard: Right off the bat you want to get off to a good start and you just never know. You want to win that first game when you get out of the gate and it’s tough and if you lose that one then you feel like you’re behind the 8-ball because Gushue probably wasn’t one of the favourites at the time and you want to put as many wins as you can under your belt and get to that final. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The two local favourites — Halifax’s Mark Dacey and Shawn Adams — struggled out of the gate. As they both finished with 3-6 records, the East Coast fans turned their support and rallied around Gushue and his St. John’s based crew. Gushue’s father Ray proudly wore a “Brad’s Dad” orange t-shirt while his mother Maureen, who was battling cancer at the time, also came out to support him. The crowd roared during the round-robin when Gushue made an incredible shot to score four in the ninth end to win 7-4 over Jeff Stoughton, who said the young team had “no chance” to win the Trials.

Nichols: Oh it was so cool. We love having that crowd support. Being in Eastern Canada and Atlantic Canada, I guess we were kind of the adopted sons after a while. You go out onto the ice and you can hear people cheer for you, cheering for great shots, trying to motivate you and egg you on. It was great to feel that support from everyone in the arena.

Gushue: With the fan response and the shirts with “Brad’s Dad” and “Brad’s Fan” and all that stuff, it came about just playing in Halifax. Once Mark Dacey and Shawn Adams were eliminated, we were taken on as the hometown team and we had a huge contingent from Newfoundland fly up, hundreds of people, and they all went out and bought orange garbage bags because we had those horrible orange uniforms. The support was overwhelming, as good as probably even the home events that we play in, because there were so many people from home and people that were cheering for us.

Nichols: We had those ugly orange uniforms. When you first look at them you’re like holy cow those are bright compared to everything else out on the ice. It kind of worked out really well because as we started playing really well you started looking up and you could really distinguish who was cheering for you and who’s not. Seeing all those, whether they were bright orange t-shirts or garbage bags or anything like that, towards the end of the week it started to fill up for sure.

Laing: They came out and proved that they belonged there and played really well and got that momentum on their side. It wasn’t a hometown crowd being in Halifax but it turned out to be basically a Gushue hometown crowd.

Team Howard just missed the playoffs, finishing tied for fourth with Pat Ryan at 5-4.

Glenn Howard: Overall, not too bad. I think the fact that it was a new team, a year or two into the life of our team, we were pretty pleased. You want to win though and you’re never satisfied unless you come out with that gold medal around your neck or the W or the trophy over your head. You’re never satisfied because if you aren’t, I don’t think you should be playing. It was a learning curve. We learned a little bit more about each other and obviously, we put that together and tried to move on to the next coming few years.

Laing: We had an okay week, certainly had a chance to make the playoffs but just lost a couple key games along the way. We had a bad hogline violation against Stoughton. It’s amazing looking back how much I remember because it’s so long, it’s 10 years on now. … We played okay, not as well as we would have hoped but we learned a lot. That was a big stepping stone for our team moving forward into the Brier later that year, and a great week at the Brier until the last game. That was the start of our team learning what it took to win on the big stage.

Team Gushue and Team Morris both got off to hot starts with 6-1 records, but they split off into different directions from there on the final day of the round robin. Morris faced Howard before taking on Gushue in a match to determine who would get the bye to the final.

Gushue: All of the stars seemed to align for us that week. We played well, we had some other teams struggle against us. We didn’t catch many bad breaks, didn’t get many great breaks either, but we made all of our shots. Things just got on a roll and confidence built. By the middle of the week we felt we could beat anybody. It was a fun feeling going into every game.

Nichols: You just try to keep doing everything that you were doing to stay in that groove that you were in. We were big on routines and consistency and trying not to change too much going from event to event leading up to the Trials and then once we got to the Trials we tried to keep doing that. You obviously try not to think about the end result but it became harder and harder as we kept winning. You keep thinking about what could happen but I think we did a very good job of keeping it simple as possible and just going out and trying to make a lot of shots.

Kennedy: We started to play really well, especially John and Kevin. We got off to a really good start, I think we started 5-1 and the one loss was to Ferbey. We were actually up one with (the hammer) playing the eighth end so it was a game we could have won as well but the rest of the games we controlled. We were never really down all week.

Laing: It was unfortunate because John had a really easy shot to beat us in the 10th end. Basically an open hit with a catcher on one side and he overcurled, which John never misses the wrong ways. He’s one the smartest players I’ve ever played with when it comes to that kind of stuff. He threw a bad one and then in the extra end they had the hammer but really didn’t have a shot coming to the last rock in the end and we stole the win. Those are momentum changes, they were obviously riding high and looking to get the bye to the final and that cost them the bye to the final and they never did really recover. Obviously I’ve talked to Marc, Kevin and Ben about it, having spent so much time with them the last year and a half, but it’s an interesting thing. It’s one of those things in those big events that little things here and there go a long way and momentum is a huge part of those weeks.

Glenn Howard: That happens. It’s one of those fields where you just couldn’t take anybody lightly. You had to go out there and try to play your best against the best and you never know. If you told me who we were going to beat and who we were going to lose to, I’d say I doubt it before we’d even get there but lo and behold it just sort of unfolds.

Kennedy: What happened to us later in the week is we had run out of gas. We had two big games on the last day of the round-robin, we were 6-1 and we played Glenn Howard in the morning and Brad Gushue in the evening. We had Howard beat and we kind of gave that one away and got in a little bit of a bad mental place going into that game against Gushue because if we beat Gushue we’re into the final. I remember personally, by that time we were tired and a little grumpy and you could start to see the wheels coming off a bit. That was a learning experience for us because the Trials are such a long week. It’s a long week mentally, it’s a long week physically and I remember finishing those Olympic Trials and thinking I have to be better prepared for a long week, mentally and physically. I can’t get tired and grumpy at the end of the week like I did in Halifax because it certainly cost us an opportunity to maybe go to the Olympics.

Gushue: We got them at the end of the week when we were really cruising. When we played them, the winner was guaranteed a bye to the final so our game against them was big. Fortunately we got off to a good start and ended up winning that game.

Team Gushue (8-1) earned the bye to the final while Team Morris (6-3) faced Team Stoughton (7-2) in the semifinal. Team Morris’ skid continued as they fell behind early against Stoughton, trailing 6-1 after five ends. Morris charged back late in the second half but Stoughton held on to win 8-6.

Gushue: I was actually cheering for (John) in the semi because I didn’t want that whole karma match against Jeff. To be honest it was a little bit too much drama for my liking but he got beat there against Jeff. A good week for a young team at a Trials.

The karma match final was set between Gushue and Stoughton. The teams alternated deuces through the first two ends to keep it tight early. Gushue added another pair in the third end and stole two points in four to take a 6-2 lead. Stoughton scored deuces in five and eight while Gushue was forced to one in six but remained in the lead 7-6 with two ends to play. Gushue settled for another single in nine and held Stoughton to a point coming home to secure the 8-7 victory and the right to represent Canada at the 2006 Winter Olympic in Turin, Italy.


Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Russ Howard, and Jamie Korab celebrate after winning the 2005 Canadian Olympic Trials in Halifax. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

Nichols: You’re playing one game, winner take all. It’s something that you think about, dream about as a curler growing up to get your chance to go to the Olympics. You just go out there and try to just lay it all on the line, work as hard as you can and all those silly cliches but it’s true. You try not to think about it but it’s always there in the back of your mind. We were just lucky enough that we played really well at the beginning of the game and kind of hung on for dear life. We got a break at the end and we were able to take advantage of it. The rest is history.

Laing: The storybook ending where they ended up playing Stoughton in the final and it just all came to be in a weird way that sports tend to happen sometimes. Brad would be the first guy, the whole team would be the first ones to admit they weren’t a top-five team in Canada at that time so to win the Trials was a surprise, obviously.

Hart: I think it was a funny thing. Once we played them in that first game we kind of put them aside. I really didn’t watch (their run), we were so focused on our own situation and it wasn’t until the playoffs rolled around. We were packing our bags and looking at the standings and seeing, wow Gushue went 8-1 and basically ran the table and had a bye into the final. After the dust had settled and we had been eliminated it was like, wow what a week those guys had. We had got a flight out of town and I watched the final from home. That was an incredible run they had at those Olympic Trials. … That was a really great story for Canadian curling that week.

Glenn Howard: That was unbelievable. I don’t know when that decision was made but to have Russ — at that time one of the most knowledgeable, one of the most decorated curlers ever and his experience and knowledge to bring him in there. Obviously throwing him in at second was great and to have him call the game I think Brad knows the game but Russ kind of would be that voice of wisdom sort of thing. Brad was pretty young back then and maybe he’d make the odd dumb call or stupid call and Russ would be there to say no, don’t do this. I’m sure Brad would agree with that. A couple of those shots here and there would make the difference and I think that’s what Russ brought to the team and Brad knew he could make the shots. By Russ calling the game takes a little bit of pressure off of Brad and at that age I think it was good for him and lo and behold he went on to win the Trials and win the gold medal. It was a pretty cool moment.

Kennedy: The way Brad and Russ were playing and the way Russ was calling the game, I don’t think any of the curlers were too surprised when Brad did win the final. I think the bigger surprise was his record in the round-robin. … It was an interesting week but at the end of it I wasn’t too surprised that he won that final but I think everybody was surprised at how great he did the entire week.

Gushue: The fact that we got to go to the Olympics, that was the biggest thing. We came through, at that time, the toughest field assembled in curling. Those 10 teams were incredibly good and we beat them all other than Pat Ryan. It was a pretty proud moment and we were quite happy but getting to the Olympics was the biggest thing knowing we were going and we were going to be Olympians and have that experience was pretty cool.

Nichols: It was just so cool. I’m a huge fan of the Olympics and everything it does when it comes to bringing Canadians together and rallying behind one big team. I had always dreamed about what it would be like to go to the Olympics and have a chance to wear the maple leaf on your back on the biggest sporting stage in the world. We were just so overjoyed and excited for that opportunity and try to treat it like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s the coolest thing as an athlete to be able to wear that maple leaf on your back and represent your country.

Laing: It was a weird one. Looking back it still surprises me that they won but they deserved to win. They made all the shots and beat all the teams. At the end of the week they were the last team standing, they deserved to win and they won the Olympics, which was good to see as well, but it was a surprise that they had won week. Nobody can debate that.

Kennedy: It changed curling. Every Olympic Trials we’ve had has changed curling a little bit more but that was the one that really changed it for the young curlers including Brad because he saw an opportunity to do something amazing. We all realized the work and effort it would take from this point forward and that was kind of the point where you started to see young guys taking it to the next level. Brad Jacobs wasn’t at those Trials, obviously, but it was the next year at the Brier that we saw him for the first time so that’s when you started to see the young guys. That goes for Ben and I too. We got to see Brad win and then we started to see what it was going to take for us to win the next one. That’s when guys started to commit their lives to getting to the Olympics. That Trials had a big impact on a lot of our lives, for sure.

Kennedy concluded by declaring who the real winner was in Halifax that week.

Kennedy: I met my wife in Halifax. We had a date night and were talking about how this is our 10-year anniversary coming up in a couple weeks of meeting each other. Brad might have won the gold but I got the biggest prize.

Nothing was the same after the 2005 Trials:

- Team Gushue went on to take the top prize at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, becoming the first Canadian men’s curling team — as well as the first Newfoundlanders — to win Olympic gold medals.

- Ferbey’s dynasty run at the Brier came to an end while Martin dismantled his team following the conclusion of the 2005-06 season.

- Team Morris also broke up after the season, however, Morris, Kennedy, and Hebert stuck together and joined Martin — forming one of the most dominant teams of all time. Together the foursome won numerous Grand Slam titles, two Briers, one world championship and captured the Olympic gold medal on home ice at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

- Kevin Koe became one of the top skips on tour winning the 2010 Brier and world titles. Koe formed a new team in 2014 reuniting with Kennedy and Hebert and adding Laing.

- Just a couple months after the Trials, Glenn Howard won the Ontario Tankard for the first time as a skip, beginning an eight-year consecutive run representing the province at the Brier. Team Howard claimed six Grand Slam titles as well as the 2007 Brier and world championships. When Hart stepped back from competitive curling in 2011, Middaugh took his spot at third in the lineup and Team Howard continued their reign at the top winning six more Grand Slams and the 2012 Brier and world titles.

Special thanks to Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Glenn Howard, Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Richard Hart for sharing their thoughts on the Trials.