It wasn't all that long ago Brad Gushue wondered if he'd ever be a Brier champion after 13 appearances without ever hoisting the historic Tankard trophy.
Times have changed in a hurry. Gushue is now a three-time Brier champion.
On Sunday night in front of a boisterous, capacity crowd inside the Leon's Centre downtown Kingston, the St. John's skip put on a curling clinic, shooting 97 per cent and defeating Alberta's Brendan Bottcher 7-3 to claim his third title in the last four years.
"We had a chip on our shoulder because in some of the lead up to this you hear about the favourites and we weren't included. To be honest, that bothered us," Gushue said.
"I think it really motivated us in the playoffs to play our best."
Gushue was unstoppable early in the game, highlighted by a tough double takeout to score three in the third end after a fourth Bottcher mistake – those three points gave Newfoundland and Labrador a comfortable 4-1 lead, one they would not relinquish.
After the game Gushue's parents, Maureen and Raymond Gushue, rushed to their son, hugging him and celebrating in the stands. It's his 143rd career victory at the Brier, padding his lead as the winningest skip in the history of the event – Kevin Martin and Russ Howard are next in line with 113 wins each.
"I thought a perfectly executed game on our behalf. Couldn't have asked for a better effort," Gushue said.
The Brier championship title is a lucrative win for Gushue – the team takes home $105,000 plus an extra $169,440 of Sport Canada Funding over the next two years.
The win also books a spot the Olympic trials in Saskatoon in December 2021.
Gushue, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker are now Team Canada at the Men's World Championship in Scotland later this month.
They also earn a direct entry into next year's Brier in Kelowna as Team Canada.
"We're the best curling nation in the world so when you get to wear that Maple Leaf on your back and represent your country it's a huge honour."
Bottcher drops third-straight Brier Final
For Bottcher, it was a third-straight Brier final defeat.
It was a nightmarish evening on the ice for Bottcher, who missed four critical shots early in the game.
He seemed to struggle in a way the usually stoic, poised and confident skip normally doesn't.
"I'm okay. I'm so proud of the guys and myself for the week we had. Obviously a little painful coming up short," he said.
Bottcher only dropped one game all week, cruising through competition. But when it came to the final, the team wasn't able to bring their best.
The Edmonton skip finished the game at 71 per cent.
"I actually thought we were feeling really good going into this game. We had a great practice this morning. I think we got a little tricked early by the ice," Bottcher said.
"We fought hard this week. A few weeks from now we'll be pretty proud of that."
Alberta third, Darren Moulding, was overrun with emotion as he fought back tears after the loss.
"I'm starting to get older. I don't know how many times I'm going to be able to get back here. I'm just proud of the guys. I just wish it would have turned out differently. I know we can play a lot better than that," Moulding said.
Getting back on top
Gushue rose to curling stardom in 2006 after capturing Olympic gold. But it was the Brier title that always eluded him.
That all changed in 2017 at home in St. John's when the team went on a magical run to win their first-ever Brier title in front of a wild crowd. They followed it up with a world championship a month later in Edmonton.
Then they went to the Brier in Regina as Team Canada and steamrolled the competition, winning a second-straight title. But since then it's been a frustrating journey getting back on top.
In fact, it had been more than a year and a half since Gushue last won a big bonspiel prior to Sunday night's Brier victory.
"When you have those droughts and you're losing in quarter-finals you have those doubts of 'what the hell am I doing this' for at times. I had a lot of those moments over the last year a half," Gushue said.
"This is why I do it."
Nichols says the team worked extremely hard to be as prepared as they possibly could be for one the best Brier fields ever.
"You don't ever imagine three in four years. That's pretty crazy with the level of talent in this country," he said.
"It never gets old. This was so much fun. The guys played so good and I have the best seat in the house for it."
Gallant says not winning an event for that span of time was starting to weigh on the team – they needed this Brier victory to spark another run.
"We were frustrated at the end of last year. We dropped to about eighth in the world rankings and we feel like we're better than that," Gallant said.
"This is huge for us. Just massive."
Walker was in awe as he looked around at his family and friends celebrating another Brier title.
"Unbelievable. It's amazing to be able to do this a third time. To win one is a dream," he said.