Before we start, I would like to give a personal congratulations to Jennifer Jones and Brad “COME ON!” Jacobs for their Olympic gold medal performances in Sochi. While Jones dominated and ran the table (which is a first in the Olympics on the women’s side), Jacobs did things the hard way as usual. He started off with a 1-2 record but turned up the intensity when it came to the playoffs as he destroyed both China and Great Britain by a combined score of 19-9.
Now that the Olympics are over, its on to the Brier which has an extra added incentive this year as the winning team will return in 2015 as Team Canada, just like at the Scotties.
1) Manitoba (Jeff Stoughton – Charleswood Curling Club – Winnipeg)
(LtoR – Skip – Jeff Stoughton “Power”, Vice – Jon Mead, Lead – Reid Carruthers, Second – Mark “Bam Bam” Nichols)
After a very disappointing showing at the Olympic Trials, the Stoughton crew decided to take their frustrations out on the field (and Mike McEwen, again) to win Manitoba. Ho hum right?
Well that was about to change as an announcement came shortly afterwards that Nichols and Carruthers would swap positions at the Brier, which makes this team even deadlier with Nichols upweight ability being almost godlike compared to Carruthers. This will help Carruthers focus on draws more, which he is good at. Also, don’t forget about Mead and Stoughton and their runback ability.
2) Alberta (Kevin Koe – Glencoe Curling Club – Calgary)
(LtoR – Skip – Kevin Koe, Vice – Pat Simmons, Second – “Jesus Christ” Carter Rycroft, Lead – Nolan Thiessen)
Speaking of disappointments, a lot of people thought this team from Calgary would be a potential dark-horse at the very worst for the Olympic Trials, but they struggled by going winless until their final two games. We’re still not sure how it happened as we know the potential of this lineup, but things just did not click.
So after winning another tight provincial final over Kevin Martin (and potentially ending his career in the process) I see Koe’s true form returning with his deadly hitting ability shining through, which will again make this team a threat.
3) Newfoundland and Labrador (Brad Gushue – Bally Hally Golf And Curling Club – St. John’s)
(LtoR – Skip – Brad Gushue, Vice – Brett Gallant, Second – Adam Casey, Lead – Geoff Walker)
This team just missed out on making the Olympic Trials and they are also coming off of a great showing at last year’s Brier. However, you have to wonder though if Brad Gushue is carrying this team on his back, as he made a boatload of hero shots at the Brier and the Pre-Trials just to keep his team in it.
If the rest of the team can play well, then they could be a threat for Newfoundland’s first brier since Jack MacDuff won in 1976.
4) British Columbia – John Morris (Vernon and Kelowna Curling Clubs)
(LtoR – Skip – “Johnny Mo” John Morris (throws third), Vice – Jimmmmmmmmmmmm Cotter (throws fourth), Second – Tyrel Griffith, Lead – Rick Sawatsky)
This team was the biggest surprise of the Olympic Trials in December as John Morris took the Cotter team all the way to the finals before losing to Brad Jacobs. Jim Cotter played fantastic during the trials and the provincials so the pressure could be more on Morris to make more shots as he can be hit or miss, especially with upweight hits. However, if he can do that, watch out for them to make another run to the title like they did at the Trials.
5) Quebec (Jean-Michel Menard – Etchemin Curling Club – Saint-Romauld)
(LtoR – Skip – Jean-Michel Menard, Vice – Martin Crete, Second – Eric Sylvain, Lead – Philippe Menard)
Last year, Jean-Michel Menard came very close to making the playoffs, which was impressive considering how stacked the field was in Edmonton. Now granted, this field is a bit weaker than last year, but if he is gonna return to the playoffs, he’ll have to knock off one of the big four teams. That may not be an easy feat, however, with his experience it can be done.
6) Saskatchewan (Steve Laycock – Nutana Curling Club – Saskatoon)
(LtoR – Skip – Steve Laycock, Vice – Kirk Muyers, Second – Colton Flasch “Gordon” (Saviour of the Universe), Lead – Dallan Muyers)
In 2011 Steve Laycock, who normally played third became the skip of a Saskatchewan team that included Pat Simmons. However it ended in disappointment as they finished 4-7.
After Simmons left to join up with Kevin Koe, things kind of went downhill and Laycock struggled as a result. However things have looked on the up and up this year with a semi final appearance at the Pre-Trials and a return to the Brier, so this might be a team that you should not sleep on.
7) New Brunswick (James Grattan – Gage Golf & Curling Club – Oromocto)
(LtoR – Skip – James “Jimmy the Kid” Grattan, Vice – Jason Roach, Second – Darren Roach, Lead – Josh Barry)
Last year James Grattan looked like a potential playoff threat, especially after a giant upset over Kevin Martin, until he faded late in the going. He might be a bit of a long shot to makes the playoffs this year though, as he will ned to have no bad games at all and try to pull off one or two big upsets.
8) Ontario (Greg Balsdon – Glendale Golf & Country Club – Hamilton)
(LtoR – Skip – GREG BALSDON!, Vice – Mark Bice, Second – Tyler Morgan, Lead – Jamie Farnell)
Of note, alternate Steve Bice may also play in the second or lead role during the week, as the front end tends to switch around.
All good things have to come to an end at some point and it happened this year in Ontario. Greg Balsdon pulled off the upset of the provincials by defeating Glenn Howard and ushering in a new era in Ontario men’s curling after Howard had won eight straight provincial titles.
Balsdon could be known as the Giant Killer from now as a result, as he also pulled a giant comeback in the Pre-Trials against Brad Jacobs, as he won 10-9 after being down 8-3 after six ends. So the big names may have to watch out for this team, which are the biggest wildcard in this entire field.
9) Northwest Territories/Yukon (Jamie Koe – Yellowknife Curling Club)
(LtoR – Skip – Jamie Koe, Vice – Kevin Whitehead, Second – Brad Chorostkowski, Lead – Robert Borden)
Two years ago Jamie Koe was the Cinderella story of the Brier by making it to the playoffs for the very first time for not only his team, but for the Territories as a whole. They ended up being 5-6 last year, but that was in a very stacked field that we have talked about before. Last year they were 5-6 but granted the field was stacked as mentioned before.
Now with a slightly changed lineup (Whitehead replaces Tom Naugler) and a weaker field, could Koe catch the magic of 2012? Perhaps, but the chances might be very slim.
10) Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy – Lakeshore Curling Club – Lower Sackville)
(LtoR – Skip – Jamie “Don’t call me Charlie” Murphy, Vice – Jordan Pinder, Second – Mike Bardsley, Lead – Donald McDermaid)
In 2012, Jamie Murphy upset Mark Dacey to make his first Brier appearance. Early on, he doing pretty well with a 4-3 record until losing four straight games to finish at 4-7. Since then, he has played in many World Curling Tour events, but I’m not sure if his record will improve that much from two years ago.
11) Northern Ontario (Jeff Currie – Fort William Curling Club – Thunder Bay)
(LtoR – Skip – Jeff Currie, Vice – Mike McCarville, Second – Colin Koivula, Lead – Jamie Childs)
So without Brad Jacobs, we were going to have a new Northern Ontario team at the Brier. In the end, it turned out to be 1996 Canadian Junior Champion Jeff Currie, who does have a pretty decent lineup for this Northern Ontario squad.
However this does show the issue with this Province and Newfoundland when it comes to the quality of the overall teams on a national stage, and I see nothing struggles for this squad, though he could pull off an upset or two.
12) Prince Edward Island (Eddie MacKenzie – Charlottetown Curling Club)
(LtoR – Skip – Eddie Mackenzie, Vice – Anson Carmody, Second – Tyler Mackenzie, Lead – Sean Ledgerwood)
For the third time in the last four years, Eddie MacKenzie has returned to the Brier to represent Prince Edward Island, and he has made another change by bringing his son Tyler into the mix. However it could be another long tournament for him, as he tries to finish anywhere but last, which is where he his ended up in his previous trips to the Brier.
Whoa whoa whoa Brett, before we get started, we have to also salute Scottish curling heroine Eve Muirhead on her bronze medal at the Winter Olympics. Okay maybe that’s just me.
As for the Brier field, you can probably divide into in three tiers once again. There’s a solid group of teams who can contend, and then another group of teams who are in the mid-level that might sneak into the playoff discussions, and your bottom feeders.
1) Manitoba (Jeff Stoughton)
Other than some blips at the 2012 provincials, last year’s Brier final to Brad Jacobs, and the Olympic Trials in Winnipeg, this team has been the best in the country over the last few years. It’s hard to say what happens after this season, but I expect this squad to get things done once again.
2) Alberta (Kevin Koe)
I picked this team to win the Trials. I have no further comment on that great move.
Anyways, like Brett said earlier, Koe’s squad should be a lot better at the Brier, especially since in his two previous trips for Alberta he finished in first and second place in 2010 and 2012 respectively.
3) Newfoundland & Labrador (Brad Gushue)
Since his 2007 runner-up finish to Glenn Howard in Hamilton, this is Gushue’s best shot at a Brier title. Given the way that he has made shots over the last year, I would be stunned if he doesn’t sneak into the semi-finals at the very worst.
4) British Columbia (John Morris)
After an amazing run at the Olympic Trials, a lot more will be expected of this squad, especially since they are the host team. Cotter is no slouch though, and Johnny Mo is as solid as they come, so the playoffs should be in the cards. A Brier title won’t be too surprising either.
5) Quebec (Jean-Michel Menard)
As Brett said earlier, the 2006 Brier champion has the stuff to make it to the playoffs. But if he doesn’t get a win over the top four teams coming into this week, he may have some problems.
6) Saskatchewan (Steve Laycock)
Since the bad boys of the prairies led by Brock Virtue didn’t return, a somewhat improved Laycock team is back for the land of the Green Riders. If he plays as well as he did at the Pre-Trials, Laycock could be a sleeper. However, if he struggles, it could be a long week.
7) Ontario (Glenn Howa…Wait who won the provincials? GREG BALSDON!!!)
It will be weird to see someone other than Glenn Howard at the Brier for Ontario, but Balsdon is no slouch. I’m not sure he will make the playoffs in his first trip to the nationals, but this team will be in the mix all week as the biggest wild-cards in the event.
8) Northwest Territories/Yukon (Jamie Koe)
First of all, let us discuss how great these shirts are that the team will be selling at the patch. I don’t expect them to have a 2012 playoff showing, but a 5-6 showing isn’t out of the question.
9) New Brunswick (James Grattan)
It’s been nearly 20 years since James’ big run at the 1997 Brier, so I don’t think he’s really a kid anymore. His quick start was a nice surprise last year, but I don’t expect that to happen again.
10) Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy)
It’s sort of the same thing with James Grattan when it comes to Jamie Murphy. I see this team battling for wins all week long, but I don’t see them finishing super high up in the standings
11) Northern Ontario (Not Brad Jacobs. AKA: Jeff Currie)
Since Jacobs’ isn’t here, the former national junior champion (over Ryan Fry by the way) will have to prevent Northern Ontario from being in the relegation round next year. Though to be fair, Jacobs destroying Nunavut might be the most violent thing TSN has showed since WCW Monday Nitro.
12) Prince Edward Island (Eddie MacKenzie)
Poor Eddie. If he gets a win this week, I’ll be impressed.