When news of the break up of Jeff Stoughton's team came to light last month, there was immediate - and very strong - speculation that the team's lead/second, Mark Nichols, would return to his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador to reunite with his old skip, Brad Gushue.
That reunion has come to pass, with Gushue making the announcement, Monday, on his team's Facebook page:
"I am very pleased to announce the return of Mark Nichols to our team. It will be great to be teammates once again, as Mark brings experience and talent that will certainly benefit our team as a whole."
Now, the tandem that formed half of Canada's gold medal Olympic team in 2006 (Russ Howard and Jamie Korab rounded out the team, while Mike Adam was the alternate) is back together, as Nichols returns to throw third stones for the skip he played for from 1998 - 2011. Nichols stepped back from the game at that time, and re-emerged a year later, out West.
Together, Gushue and Nichols were part of teams that won eight Newfoundland and Labrador Championships, as well as a Canadian National Junior Championship, in 2001. Nichols heads back to The Rock after two seasons with Stoughton, playing the lead position, mostly, before he was moved into the second position in time for this year's Brier.
"I am looking forward to joining Team Gushue," Nichols is quoted as saying. "I’m excited to be returning home, and excited to help the guys achieve our goal of winning a Brier and return to the Olympics. They have shown they are a world class team and I hope to build on the success they have had over the last three years.”
With Gushue throwing fourth stones and Nichols throwing third (Howard was the skip), the team won gold at the Torino Olympics in 2006. It was a superb combination, obviously, with Howard's savvy decision-making being a key component in the team's rise to the top of the podium. Nichols' outstanding performance at the Olympics really turned heads, with his up-weight shooting abilities constantly bailing the team out of tough spots and putting immense pressure on other teams' vices to match.
With Nichols returning to the fold, Team Gushue's vice for the last two seasons, Brett Gallant, will drop down to the second position, replacing Adam Casey, who leaves the squad. Geoff Walker will remain at lead, meaning that the team will keep at least some semblance of consistency. At the 2014 Brier, Gushue suffered a slow, slow start, then rallied to very nearly force his way into a tie-breaker, leading some of us to be optimistic about his team's future as it was.
However, you can't blame Gushue for jumping when his old mate became available after being wasted at lead in Manitoba for the better part of two seasons. Wasted in that Nichols' ability to change an end with one shot is much better served at the back end than at the top of the order. There might be some irony in his playing front end for Stoughton, though. While he wasn't getting as many chances to play the role of "Bam Bam" nearly as often, the lead position might very well have brought Nichols an improved touch with draws and that could be beneficial as Team Gushue endeavours to become the first rink from their province to win a Brier since 1976.
After going oh and eleven in Brier appearances, that would likely be the thing Gushue wants most (along with his home province actually hosting a Brier).
This move should be a big boost for Gushue. With the history he and Nichols have together, chemistry will be there from the get go. In Gallant, he has an emerging young shooter who should flourish at second.
The return of Nichols to the Gushue rink marks the second high-profile reuniting of a skip and vice. A week ago, Ontario's Glenn Howard announced that Richard Hart was coming out of retirement to play for him, again, next season.
While Howard and Hart aren't one hundred per cent sure their remarriage will last through the 2017 Canadian Olympic Trials (where Canada's representative at the 2018 Games will be decided), Gushue and Nichols are in four-year cycle mode and very much aiming to get back to an Olympic Games together.
They'll have steep competition. Kevin Koe's new team of Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert is targeting an Olympic berth. As well, on Monday, Brad Jacobs announced that his gold medal Sochi team will be staying together to try and defend their Olympic title at Pyeongchang, South Korea.