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Tim Hortons Brier 2013: Does Newfoundland And Labrador’s Brad Gushue finally have the right combination?

Brad Gushue calls out sweeping instructions at the 2012 Brier. (CP)

He won't be wearing it at the Brier. Players at the national men's curling championship don't have numbers on their jerseys.

At tour events, it's different. Brad Gushue wears it for a very good reason. One that does have a link to Brier history.

“On the back of my world curling tour uniform I actually have the number 76," began Gushue. "I put it there as, I guess, a tribute to the MacDuff team and also hoping it would rub some good luck off on our team and maybe we can repeat the success that they had back in ’76.”

Jack MacDuff, and his team of Toby Mcdonald, Doug Hudson and Ken Templeton, comprised the only foursome to ever win The Brier for Newfoundland And Labrador. They did it in 1976.

“I’ve been close to Toby for a long time and we’ve talked a lot about the old stories that that team went through so, yeah, I do think of those guys a bit and what they did and how special it was for Newfoundland at that time.”

In his tenth apearance as a skip at The Brier, Gushue will try once again to end the drought and recapture that special feeling. Not that he hasn't given his home province a special feeling. Place went nuts when he skipped Canada to a gold medal at the 2006 Olympics.

As for the nationals, he's been close before, particularly in 2007 when he made an appearance in the final, but ended up with silver after being beaten by Glenn Howard.

He returns, with yet another altered line-up, (this is the seventh different squad in his last nine appearances) trying to capture the elusive chemistry that might have him finally getting his hands on that tankard.

Gushue has had so many players on his rink over the years, even he makes light of it. When he spied the list of teams doing battle at Edmonton's Rexall Place from March 2nd to 10th, he tweeted "is every player I ever played with going to this year's Brier?"

Among the Gushue exes who'll wear other provinces colours in Edmonton this year are Ryan Fry (Northern Ontario), Mark Nichols (Manitoba) and Chris Schille (Saskatchewan).

"Two ways to look at it," said the native of St. John's. "One is that I’ve played with a lot of guys. The other is I’ve also played with some pretty good players as well."

Fry was a part of Gushue's teams at his last four Brier appearances. His departure last spring signaled the arrival of Brett Gallant. Gallant began the year at second, with Adam Casey at vice. Part way through this season there was another change, although that one involved Casey and Gallant switching positions.

As Gushue explains, the rationale for the flip comes from Gallant tinkering with the way he delivers rocks.

“He started throwing it very similar to the way I do," Gushue explained. "I was able to get a good read off the way he was throwing it, for my rocks. As the year went on it just seemed like a natural, smart move to make that switch because it's going to allow me to make sure I have the broom in the right spot for my shots. And it seemed more natural for Brett to play third and Adam to play second.”

“We seem to have turned the corner a little bit since we made the line up change."

The 2013 Brier roster is jammed with good teams and plenty of experience. Gushue believes the depth of the field might actually be helpful. Last year, his team got off to an oh and 3 start and was pretty much toast at that time. A couple of early losses might not be so crippling this time around, he reasons.

"I’m kind of excited to see a top notch field because the two years that we’ve done real well, from our standpoint, were really strong fields. I kind of like that because, last year, if you lost a couple of games, there was nobody to sneak up and beat a team that you were chasing. This year, if you lose three games you’re probably not in horrible shape. You’re still going to be in playoff contention," he said.

"I feel pretty good," the Brier bronze medallist from 2011 continued. "I like the way we’re playing over the last month and a half. My only concern going into it is that I’m playing with guys that are pretty young and pretty inexperienced."

Gallant just turned 23. Casey will be 24 in August. Lead Geoff Walker is 27. (Walker and Casey are each appearing in their second Brier, Gallant is a rookie)

Gushue will need to manage the week exceptionally well for his relatively young team to have a shot at the playoffs. He may be just 32 years old himself, but with so much high level competition under his belt, he's thought of as a grizzled vet. He has always had a penchant for taking curling competitions ultra seriously, and makes no apologies to those who might think he's a little too tightly-wound.

“Over the years I’ve been one of the few curlers that wouldn’t go out until three or four in the morning partying, but my viewpoint was that you’re there to win, there to compete and why not do everything you can to be as good as you can be? There’s all kinds of other times to party and enjoy yourself, other than at a curling event."

"There are people who probably think that I’m a stick in the mud but I think people that know me pretty well know I’m a pretty easy going guy," he continued. "I like to have a good time but I do take things serious. Curling, at the top level, I try to compete as hard as I can and make sure that I don’t leave any stone unturned... pardon the stone reference... but I don’t wanna look back in the years when I’m done curling thinking ‘geez I wish I’d trained a little harder.’ That’s my feeling on it.”

Gushue's hoping that, at last, he has the right combination of players on the ice in front of him. If so, then maybe - just maybe - the curling gods will finally call his number at The Brier.

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