He’s got the confidence that comes with having previously won the event, plus the experience of competing in the high-profile, high-pressure Brier Canadian men’s championship.
And he’s got more than 20 dozen sticks of gum.
Greg Smith is ready for the Tankard.
Smith is reigning Newfoundland and Labrador men’s curling champion and begins defence of that title today as the 2019 Tankard provincials get underway at Bally Haly Country Club in St. John’s.
He’s doing so with a new-look team. Ian Withycombe is back at lead, but third Matthew Hunt and second Andrew Taylor from last year’s team have been replaced by Nicholas Bissonnette and John Sheppard, respectively.
That rejigged lineup is an example of the off-season roster shuffling that involved almost every top-level curling rink in St. John’s.
“Pretty well every team did change,” said Smith. “And there were many players who changed roles. For example, (Adam) Boland went from skip to throwing second stones (for Andrew Symonds' rink).
“There was a lot of movement.”
The alterations came months in advance of what will be a second straight Tankard without Brad Gushue, who had claimed 11 consecutive provincial titles before going all the way and winning the Brier in 2017.
“I’ll still be as loud, still as boisterous. And I’ll be cheering just as much. And I have 250 pieces of gum for the week. I think we’re good to go.” — Greg Smith
That meant Gushue didn’t have to participate in the Tankard last year — he had a guaranteed berth in the 2018 Brier as Team Canada — and he has maintained that status, having won a second straight national title last year.
It was Smith who became the first skip other than Gushue to wear Newfoundland and Labrador colours at the Brier since 2006. He knows others want the opportunity he had last year, and he figures all that reshaping of rinks was designed with another Gushue-less Tankard in mind.
“It probably totally had a ton to do with it,“ he said, “Knowing that, I think that people made moves with their teams trying to get the best dynamic they could, teams they thought could win, that could get to the Brier.”
It’s also contributed to the largest Tankard entry list in more than 15 years.
There are 12 teams beginning play at Bally Haly today, and while three quarters of them are based out of the Re/Max Centre in St. John’s, there are three from outside the metro area, a veritable plethora compared to previous years.
What’s more they cover most regions, with Dave Thomas back with his Port aux Basques rink, Rod Feltham from Gander and Bernard Bird from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“I think it’s phenomenal having teams from all over Newfoundland and Labrador and just the sheer numbers we have,” said Smith. “It’s great for the sport.”
Smith was considered a bit of a surprise Tankard winner last year, going unbeaten in preliminary play before defeating Symonds in the second game of a two-game final (having been undefeated, Smith needed to be beaten twice by Symonds to be denied the crown).
At the 2018 Brier in Regina, Smith and his rookie team struggled to a 1-6 preliminary record, but the Newfoundland skip attracted lots of attention for his exuberance, animated personality and his ferocious gum-chewing. His popularity was such that he was awarded the Ross Harstone Sportsmanship Award at the end of the event.
Smith says his Tankard and Brier experiences of last year taught him the need to train as much as possible and the importance of getting in as much out-of-province competition as possible.
More than anything, it made him realize the requirement for “patience within games, although I still probably need even more of that,” he said with a chuckle.
But being more patient doesn’t necessarily mean he will be less emotional.
“Probably not,” he said. “I’ll still be as loud, still as boisterous. And I’ll be cheering just as much. And I have 250 pieces of gum for the week. I think we’re good to go.”
Smith’s affinity for gum is such that he went after a sponsorship in that regard.
“We tried … we contacted the PUR Company (a gum manufacturer in Ontario), but nothing yet. I’m surprised. It seems like a natural fit and we need sponsors.”
A return to trip to the Brier — the 2019 event is in Brandon, Man., beginning March 2 — would provide a boost, although the want for a repeat visit has more to do with the atmosphere off the ice and the competition on it.
“When you get to that week and you’re treated like superstars, it’s a kind of a cool feeling, especially having six or seven thousand people cheering for you,” he said,
“And of course there’s simply getting to play in the Brier against some of the best teams in the world. All of it wants to make you want do it again.
“But you have to do more than want. That’s what this week at Bally Haly is all about.”
TANKARD ENTRY LIST
Team’s entered in the 2019 Tankard provincial men’s curling championship, beginning today at Bally Haly Country Club in St. John’s (teams are listed by home club, with skip first, followed by third, second and lead):
Gander Curling Club
• Rod Feltham, Kris MacLeod, Steve Humphries, Alex Silmarie
Gateway Curling Club, Port aux Basques
• Dave Thomas, Cody Parsons, Patrick Von Wiegen, Floyd Francis
Goose Bay Curling Club
• Bernard Bird, Ryan Wheaton, Owen Cousins, Stephen Goulding
Re/Max Centre, St. John’s
• Nick Lane, Jeff Rose, Andrew Taylor, Michael Mosher
• Justin Lockyer, Stephen Spratt, Jacob Gazeley, Jason Noel
• Ken Peddigrew, Mark Healy, Evan Kearley, Dave Noftall
• Rick Rowsell, Keith Ryan, Stephen Trickett, Zach Young, Alex Smith (spare), Leslie Ann Walsh (coach)
• Trent Skanes, Steve Bragg, Andrew Manuel, Michael Day, Alex Phillips (spare)
• Greg Smith, Nicholas Bissonnette, John Sheppard, Ian Withycombe, Randy Turpin (spare), Toby McDonald (coach)
• Matthew Smith, Scott Davidge, Stephen Tibbs, Glynn Williams
• Andrew Symonds, Chris Ford, Adam Boland, Keith Jewer, Craig Jewer (coach)
• Colin Thomas, Cory Schuh, Spencer Wicks, Jeff Thomas