By Kristina Rutherford, CTVOlympics.ca

Considering they don’t even have ice on ‘The Rock’ yet, Team Gushue is off to quite a start on the World Curling Tour.

Brad Gushue and the reigning Olympic champions from Newfoundland are 2-0 after the first two tournaments of the season, having knocked off the current world champion and a group of Canadian Olympic hopefuls in the process.

“We faced four teams that are going to be at the Olympics, and then four more hopefuls out of Canada that are going to be playing down in the trials process, so to beat every one of them was a good way to start the season,” Gushue said in an interview with CTVOlympics.ca.

“This is the best start we’ve ever had. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

So far the rink – Mark Nichols, Ryan Fry, Jamie Korab and Gushue – has a 14-1 record en route to wins at the Baden Masters and Shorty Jenkins Classic, an impressive start considering summer training consisted of limited curling since no rinks in Newfoundland agreed to stay open.

It meant over the summer the team had to travel to Nova Scotia – trips funded thanks to sponsors – to have some “intense weekends of practicing,” Gushue said. It also meant ramping up the off-ice training with personal trainers.

“We definitely stepped it up a notch this year, being an Olympic year,” said Korab, the team’s lead. “We didn’t want to have any of those ‘what if’ questions after the trials, ‘What if we were in better shape, what if we ate better.’ We wanted to say we did everything we could.”

Team Gushue has a busy schedule of tournaments ahead to prepare for pre-Olympic trials – The Road to the Roar – set for Nov. 10-14 in Prince George, B.C. There, they’ll be among 12 Canadian teams competing for the four remaining qualifying spots for the Roar of the Rings, the Olympic trials to determine who represents Canada in Vancouver.

Among the four teams pre-qualified for the Roar of the Rings are Ontario’s Glenn Howard and Alberta skips Kevin Martin and Kevin Koe – and Gushue’s rink has beaten all three of them already this season, including their first win against Martin in two years.

But Gushue says it’s too early to jump to conclusions.

“We are playing well and making some big and timely shots, but it’s still early in the season, and we’re still making some early season mistakes,” he said. “I don’t think we’re playing as well as we’re capable of playing. And to be fair, it’s so early that none of the teams are.”

Any team hoping to represent Canada will have to be at their best at Olympic trials, set for December 6-13 in Edmonton. Canada boasts the top four teams in the world according to World Curling Tour rankings – Martin, Howard, Gushue and Edmonton’s Randy Ferbey, in that order.

“Any one of those teams will go into the Games as the favourite,” Gushue said. “With luck on our side and a few good and timely shots, I think we have as good a chance as anybody to be there.”

Of course, there isn’t a magic formula when it comes to winning Olympic trials. If anyone knows that, it’s Team Gushue. Four years ago, the team hadn’t won any events leading up to the Roar.

“We were able to turn it on that week, and that was all that mattered,” said Gushue. “I like to think our odds are much better going into this Olympic trials because we’re actually competing and winning.”

Korab says the added experience of four years under their belts since they won Olympic gold in Torino means the team is that much stronger, too.

“We’ve matured a lot. I definitely think our team is as good, if not better than four years ago, just because of our experience. We also gel really well as a team, everyone gets along really well.”

One of the youngest teams on the tour – Fry’s 31, while Korab, Nichols and Gushue are 29 – Korab, Nichols and Gushue have been best friends since they joined forces on the junior tour, while Fry and Korab are roommates.

Things are much improved with Team Gushue since the post-Olympic breakup, when Korab was asked to leave the team because he “lost a little bit of the intensity and focus he had in 2006,” as Gushue puts it.

The team was back together and had patched things up for the 2009 season in time for the Brier.

“Jamie was a critical part in our success in 2006,” Gushue said. “If he’s playing a certain way and has a certain attitude on the ice, he’d be a big asset to any team. Once he had that fire back in his belly, bringing him back was an obvious decision.”

That fire in the belly is clear when you ask Korab about representing Canada on home ice in Vancouver.

“Wearing that red maple leaf on our backs in Italy was amazing, and in Canada, it will be a once in a lifetime experience,” he said. “This is the pinnacle of amateur sport, to play in the Olympics, and to do it at home would be something special.

“It would be sweet to repeat, but whatever Canadian team gets to go to the Olympics – cross my fingers, hope it’s us – will have an amazing experience.”

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