Curling Canada clarified eligibility ‘grey area’ in policy for defending Brier champs

By Gregory Strong

LONDON, Ont. – Brad Gushue’s team is back at the Tim Hortons Brier as defending champions. They’ll have to change their residency situation or roster makeup next season if they need to qualify to return via provincial playdowns.

A successful title defence at Budweiser Gardens would ensure they come back as Team Canada but anything less would require some kind of an adjustment under current rules.

“It would be a situation where they were not residency compliant if they were to not win and had to represent Newfoundland (and Labrador) in the next year,” said Curling Canada’s Nolan Thiessen.

“Obviously they would have to do something different or make alternative plans or someone would have to move there to meet residency requirements next season.”

Under current rules, only one import player is allowed per team. The others must be bona fide residents of the same province or territory or have birthright status.

However, Gushue’s team has two players who are not based in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Gushue and vice Mark Nichols live in St. John’s, but newcomer E.J. Harnden lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and lead Geoff Walker is an Edmonton resident.

A Curling Canada clarification on the issue was provided in the competitor guide issued to teams before the Brier.

In a copy of the document seen by The Canadian Press, the national sport organization said a review found “there is not total clarity around residency requirements for Team Canada.”

“In the case of Team Canada, they are no longer competing for their province/ territory or entering said playdowns,” the document said. “This ‘grey area’ in our policy has been highlighted that these teams are no longer nominated by their province or territory after playdowns but have earned the right to play as Team Canada in our national championship.”

If the Canada entry has three of four players returning from the team that earned the berth, it will be eligible to play “regardless of residency,” Thiessen told The Canadian Press.

“I know that’s a bit of a different clarification (than) in the past,” he said in a recent interview. “We looked at our residency policies as well and it’s, more or less, it obviously relates to our member association teams.

“But from a Team Canada perspective, we clarified that it had to be three of four (returnees) from the team that won the year before.”

Second Brett Gallant, who was listed as a St. John’s resident last season, helped the Gushue side win the 2022 Brier in Lethbridge, Alta. He later joined an Alberta-based team skipped by Brendan Bottcher.

“Residency is always a hot-button topic,” said Thiessen. “We have the push and pull of we have to have our best teams at the national championships for our funding partners, for our ability to make sure that are best teams go off to world championships as well and can earn us medals because those matter.

“But residency matters and the provincial and territorial playdowns and championships matter as well. We’re always trying to see if there’s a better way to find that hybrid.”

It’s possible that changes to residency requirements could be coming soon. Curling Canada’s high-performance review results are expected to be released in the coming weeks.

But for this year at least, Gushue is good to go. He headlines a Brier field that includes 14 provincial and territorial champions and three wild-card entries based on Canadian rankings.

“Our national championships are special for a reason,” said Thiessen, the organization’s executive director of marketing and fan experience. “They’re also a financial driver for Curling Canada. There’s a goal and there’s tradition there that matters for everybody and it matters to us.”

The organization, which recently named a new HP director in David Murdoch, is also expected to soon unveil its qualification plans for the quadrennial leading to the 2026 Milan Olympics.

Most elite teams juggled their lineups in the off-season for the four-year cycle. Instead of building the best possible four-player lineup like international teams do, athletes had to keep residency rules in mind.

For Curling Canada, it’s all part of a balancing act of maintaining strong provincial and national championships with the goal of producing the best possible representatives at international events.

“The way I always say it too, because of all of the factors, we can never tip anything in one direction,” Thiessen said. “We can never just tip everything to strictly world championship medals and we can never tip everything strictly to just marketing.

“Every factor is always considered when we’re looking at everything. When we push over one domino, other ones fall and we’ve got to try to see what those are.”