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Long time between Briers, Newfoundland and Labrador lead back in it 35 years later

REGINA — Alex Smith is back in the Canadian men's curling championship 35 years after his last appearance in Saskatoon in 1989.
Newfoundland and Labrador lead Alex Smith looks on during a break while playing Team Alberta-Bottcher during the Brier, in Regina, on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Smith is playing in his first Brier since 1989. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

REGINA — Alex Smith is back in the Canadian men's curling championship 35 years after his last appearance in Saskatoon in 1989.

Newfoundland and Labrador's lead at the Montana's Brier in Regina was a 23-year-old engineering student when he played third for Lorne Henderson's team that posted a 7-4 record in Saskatchewan Place.

Now 58, the province's assistant deputy minister of mines has returned to an event he thought was in his rear-view mirror.

"It's a whole lifetime," Smith said. "Marriage, kids, grandkids. A lot has happened since then.

"Last few years, I'd been playing seniors and I sort of thought my time was done, but you know, stuff happens."

"Stuff" was Andrew Symonds' regular lead Keith Jewer falling and separating his shoulder in the team's third game of the season.

"Unfortunately he was done for the year," Symonds said. "We went through the rest of the fall with varying spares and a lot of games we played with three folks. Once we got into Tankard time, we were looking for a lead and potentially somebody to hold the broom as well."

Smith delivers first stones, and runs the rings when Symonds throws skip stones for the St. John's foursome. 

Smith skipped Newfoundland and Labrador to a 4-6 record in December's national men's senior curling championship in Vernon, B.C. He played his first game with Symonds in the men's provincial championship.

"There was no doubt it was Alex," Symonds said. "He's a very experienced player. He's a great curler. Age is just a number for sure. When we got into the Tankard, it just clicked. We got on a nice run at the end. 

"The story itself, 35 years is crazy. We knew it would be when we came here. Thinking back to 1989 when he went to Saskatoon at 23 years old, he probably thought he was going to go seven or eight times maybe. Then 35 years later, here we are."

Yukon's Clinton Abel and Scott Odian previously held the record for the longest gap between Brier appearances at 24 years (1995-2019). 

Brad Gushue, who is pursuing a sixth career national title in Regina, was eight years old when Lorne Henderson finished just outside the playoffs in Saskatoon.

The 1989 crowds and host city's terrain stand out in Smith's mind.

"Much like Regina, flat land," he said. "I thoroughly enjoyed the experience."

The Brier has changed a lot in 35 years. Smith said he's prepared for it. 

"It's certainly more demanding on a 58-year-old body than it is on a 23-year-old body," he said. "It's totally different. 

"The current era of curling, it's professional curlers that are going to win this event Our goal here is to compete, to play well and just try to do our best.

"With life experience, and the added benefit of being a bit of a surprise, I can just come here and appreciate having the experience and competing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2024.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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