A good story comes back full circle for Reid Carruthers and Jason Gunnlaugson (Photo: Curling Canada), the 2022-23 curling season has taken them back to the beginning of their men's careers when the duo played together, intending to represent Manitoba at a Tim Hortons Brier.
Eventually, the pair took separate paths. Carruthers joined the veteran Jeff Stoughton and won a Tim Hortons Brier and world championship, followed by stints as a skip and third. Gunnlaugson cut his teeth as a skip, making a steady and solid rise up the Canadian rankings to become a mainstay at the Tim Hortons Brier. The good friends find themselves back on the same team and still have the same goals they had over 15 years ago.
"Honestly, it's hard not to bring a smile to my face thinking about that," Carruthers said of joining up with Gunnlaugson again.
"We were both probably a little bit shorter and maybe a little bit leaner and full of energy then. Things probably haven't changed much on that side for [Jason]. He's one of the older guys on our team, but he's the one that brings the most energy to it."
No. 5 Team Carruthers opened the 2022 PointsBet Invitational with a Thursday night win against No. 12 Team Braden Calvert (Winnipeg) in the Sweep 16 round at Fredericton's Willie O'Ree Place. The 11-2 victory was much closer than the line score suggests.
"The ice was a little tricky for drawing, and we put a lot of pressure on them once we got that little lead and made them play all the hard shots. Honestly, sometimes when that happens, and it's your first game in an event, it's tough to manage as a skip. We got fortunate early in the game and rode the momentum," Carruthers said.
Carruthers and Gunnlaugson are joined by the front end of Derek Samagalski - who played one season with them during their initial partnership - and lead Connor Njegovan. The team from the Morris Curling Club in Manitoba took control of its game against Team Calvert in the middle, scoring two in the fifth, stealing one in the sixth, two in the seventh and four in the eighth.
The win puts $3,000 into the pockets of Team Carruthers alongside a spot in the Elite 8.
Carruthers is alive in the men's and women's brackets at the event. Carruthers resumes his coaching duties with Team Kerri Einarson, who is still alive in the Elite 8 following its win on Wednesday. Carruthers made his international coaching debut last season when Einarson won bronze at the 2022 world women's championship.
"It's going to get a little bit busier here tomorrow," said Carruthers. "We're not playing a ton of games. It's not like a normal bonspiel where you're set up to play round-robin games. At the Brier, you're playing 13 games sometimes. I can help with both here, and the girls also understand that if I have a game, I may not make their game. So far, with the way the draw times are set up, I've been able to do both."
But the focus, for now, will remain on helping his team earn a $50,000 paycheque as the winners of the inaugural PointsBet Invitational and building momentum for a strong season.
Carruthers and Gunnlaugson have matured over the years and grown used to the pressure of big curling games. It's a skill set that has helped them win more games than they lose in recent years. It wasn't part of their repertoire as youngsters, notably when they fell one game shy of representing Manitoba at the men's national championships. That goal is once again within their grasp as veterans and would be a perfect way to close a story.
"Honestly, I'm probably getting closer to the end of my career. I don't know how many more quads I'm still going to play. I started my men's career with Jason, and I might be ending it with him. You never know," Carruthers said.
In other Sweep 16 men's action, defending Tim Hortons Brier champion No. 1 Brad Gushue outpaced reigning Everest Canadian Curling Club Champions No. 16 Team Nick Deagle of Nova Scotia, by A score of 8-4.
This wasn't the first time Deagle and Gushue faced off on the ice. Twenty-one years ago, Deagle and his third Jason van Vonderen represented Nova Scotia at the Canadian juniors. The winners of that year's event? None other than Newfoul No. 9 Team Mike McEwen 7-4 in the opening Sweep 16 round.
The 2022 PointsBet Invitational continues Friday with Elite Eight men's and women's play at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., respectively, followed by the inaugural PointsBet Celebrity Invitational at 8 p.m.