Written by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)
It’s time once again for the Tim Hortons Brier, and this year were heading far east to St.John’s, Newfoundland, where the atmosphere will likely be through the roof. In terms of the field this year is an interesting mix of veterans and a few first timers as well, as it’s not quite as stacked as we’ve seen over the last two years of the event.
Well I think it’s still a darn good lineup, maybe except for a couple of teams, but it should be a better week than last year in Ottawa. Granted, it was never going to match the insanity that was the 2015 event in Calgary, but being in Newfoundland for the first time since 1972 should make this a week to remember.
1) Newfoundland and Labrador – Bally Haly Golf & Curling Club
Skip – Brad Gushue, Vice – Mark “Bam Bam” Nichols, Second – Brett Gallant, Lead – Geoff Walker
Grand Slam Record – 18-6 (Quarter-Finalist, Semi-Finalist, Semi-Finalist, Champion)
It’s been an interesting year thus far for Team Gushue as Mark Nichols had to play skip for almost the entire first half of the season as Gushue recovered from hip and groin injuries. However their performance did not fall off that much, as the team made the playoffs in every event and won the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard. Gushue returned at the Boost National where he made it to the semis, and then followed that up with a victory at the Canadian Open.
We all know the story by now of Gushue coming so close to getting that elusive Brier title. This could be perhaps his best shot yet as they have been the most consistent team on tour this year. With the Brier at home, it would seem fitting to finally win it all this year, and I’m going on record and predicting there will be a riot no matter what happens with them in the final.
1) Newfoundland & Labrador (Brad Gushue)
I feel like I’ve said this the last three years, but it does seem like there’s no better chance for Gushue to finally win the Brier title than this year. The team has been strong no matter the lineup all season long and they are going to have a ton of support all week long. It’s hard to bet against them.
2) Northern Ontario – Community First Curling Centre (Sault Ste. Marie)
Skip – Brad Jacobs “Cups”, Vice – Ryan “Medium Size” Fry “79″, Second – E.J. Harnden, Lead – Ryan “Pete” Harnden
Grand Slam Record: 17-8 (Runner-Up, DNQ, Champion, Semi-Finalist)
This has definitely been a much better season compared to last year for Jacobs, where the trend seemed to be to do great in the round robin and then crash and burn in playoffs. They got their second Grand Slam title at home in the Boost National, though they did have to do it the hard way. The consistency has been there this year as well, though they did have one bad stretch from the Tour Challenge to the Canada Cup, where they failed to make the playoffs at both events.
Now a lot of people are probably hoping that we get the Battle of the Brads in this year’s Brier final and I think there is a fairly good chance at that. Believe it or not, the teams are 2-2 against each other this year and they are also dead even in all time meetings at 18-18.
When it comes to this week, I can see each side splitting the round-robin and playoff matchup, but I have Gushue squeaking it out in the final. However, if this intense team have the mojo working in the final, get out of their way.
2) Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)
I’m a little bummed out the beard isn’t back, but Jacobs is again in fine form heading into the Brier. If he’s consistent all week long and they don’t have any bad ends in the playoffs that have cost them the last two years. Northern Ontario has an excellent chance of spoiling the party in St. John’s.
3) British Columbia – Vernon & Kelowna Curling Clubs
Skip – “Johnny Mo” John Morris, Vice – Jimmmmmmmmmm Cotter (Throws fourth stones), Second – Tyrell Griffith, Lead – Rick Sawatsky
Grand Slam Record: 12-8 (DNQ, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Semi-Finalist)
John Morris has reunited with Jim Cotter, with whom he finished runner-up at the 2013 Olympic Trials and the 2014 Tim Hortons Brier. It looks this team had not missed a beat and they have had some good performances this year, including a win at the Driving Force Abbotsford Cashspiel.
Jim’s probably glad that Johnny Mo has returned and Cotter himself can be a much better player in that regard. From what we saw a couple of years ago, he can be a terrific shooter when the chips are down, so this could be the most likely team to break up the Brad show.
3) Manitoba (Mike McEwen)
Now that he’s been to a Brier, McEwen knows what to expect on the big stage and I think that will play to his advantage. He hasn’t had a dominant performance on the Tour this season like he has in the past, but this feels like a squad that is flying in under the radar and might be the biggest sleeping giant this week.
4) Manitoba – Fort Rouge Curling Club (Winnipeg)
Skip – “Magic” Mike McEwen, Vice – B.J. Neufeld, Second – Matt Wozniak, Lead – Denni Neufeld
Grand Slam Record: 11-10 (Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, Quarter-Finalist)
Statistically this has not been one of McEwen’s best seasons to date. Yes he does have two wins this season on the Tour, but he just seemed a little bit off compared to his usual sharp showings on the Grand Slam circuit. He did manage to put in some of his best games of the year in the Manitoba provincials and he got the better of hisprovincial rival Reid Carruthers as well.
I would say that Team McEwen is kinda going into this year’s Brier a bit under the radar, but I would still not count out Magic Mike since this is his second Brier appearance so he should be more comfortable in this atmosphere.
4) British Columbia (John Morris)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, never count out Johnny Mo. During the last couple of months, Morris and Cotter have been playing brilliantly on the Grand Slam circuit and I expect them to continue that run of form once again this week as they return to the playoffs.
5) Team Canada – The Glencoe Club (Calgary)
Skip – Kevin Koe, Vice – Marc Kennedy, Second – Brent “Lainger” Laing, Lead – “Benny Heebz” Ben Hebert
Grand Slam Record: 8-11 (DNQ, DNQ, Quarter-Finalist, DNQ)
Early on this season, it looked like Team Koe were not missing a beat from last year as they went on a 11 game win streak and had a 16-2 record in their first three events.
Then once the slams came around things fell apart and seemed like the Kevin Koe of 2015 was showing up again as he was missing shots he would normally make. Even Marc Kennedy was having a few struggles, but he has bounced back as of late.
At the moment, this team is kind of in the same boat as Chelsea Carey was heading at the Scotties, but they are hoping that their play at the Continental Cup and their win at the TSN Skins Game will turn things around. Would it surprise me though if they went on to repeat? Not at all.
5) Team Canada (Kevin Koe)
Like Brett said earlier, this has the same vibe that Chelsea Carey was at entering the Scotties last week. If this team is back to it’s normal form, they’ll be in the mix to return to the final. However, if Koe’s struggling with his hits like he has been at a few of the Grand Slams this season, it could be a long week.
6) Quebec – Curling Club Etchemin (Saint-Romuald)
Skip – Jean-Michel Menard, Vice – Martin Crete, Second – Eric Sylvain, Lead – Philippe Menard
Grand Slam Record: 1-3 (Competed in one event – DNQ)
Once again Jean-Michel Menard is here to destroy your TV speakers. The road back to the Brier was not an easy one for Menard though, as he barely qualified for the provincial playoffs but he kicked it into gear and won the event.
The past couple of showing for Menard at the Brier have been somewhat disappointing, but those fields were absolutely stacked. This year, however, I could see Menard giving the front runners fits.
6) Quebec (Jean-Michel Menard)
Like Krista McCarville, Menard doesn’t play much on the tour but he’s always a threat at the nationals. A mid-pack finish seems most likely, but a possible tiebreaker berth isn’t that far fetched.
7) Alberta – Saville Sports Centre (Edmonton)
Skip – Brendan Bottcher, Vice – Darren Moulding, Second – Bradley Thiessen, Lead – Karrick “Jackhammer” Martin
Grand Slam Record: 7-12 (DNQ, DNQ, DNQ, Quarter-Finalist)
As mentioned before in our provincial preview this year was a golden opportunity for Brendan Bottcher to make his Brier debut and he made the most of it. He’s a Canadian and World Junior champion and he’s already played in big arenas on the Grand Slam circuit.
We’ve already talked about the lineup change with Darren Moulding replacing Pat Simmons after Christmas, but Bottcher’s coach is the Old Bear himself Kevin Martin, so he has to help this team big time in terms of getting used to the Brier. They may finish higher than where I’m predicting them but some first time jitters may prevent that from happening.
7) Alberta (Brendan Bottcher)
You always have to get a Brier under your belt before you become a legit threat, so this will be a great learning week for the Alberta squad. With that said, this group has the talent to possibly get in the playoff discussion if they get off to a strong start.
8) Ontario – St. George’s Golf & Country Club (Etobicoke)
Skip – Glenn Howard, Vice – Richard Hart “Surgeon”, Second – David Mathers, Lead – Scott Howard
Grand Slam Record: 6-5 (Competed in two events – DNQ, Runner-Up)
Glenn Howard is once again back for his 17th Brier appearance and this year he has brought in David Mathers to have a mix of youth and experience. We have not heard much from him on the Grand Slam scene, but Howard was the runner-up at the Tier 2 Tour Challenge event to Greg Balsdon.
It’s kind hard to tell where Glenn could be in final standings, and while I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled off a few upsets, he’s nowhere near his dominant form of a few years ago.
8) Ontario (Glenn Howard)
Another year and another appearance at the Brier for Glenn Howard, as John Epping can’t seem to get out of Ontario yet. Given the strength of the field, a mid-table result seems fair for Howard, but he might be able to turn back the clock and have a strong week.
9) Saskatchewan – Highland Curling Club (Regina)
Skip – Adam Casey, Vice – Catlin Schneider, Second – Shaun Meachem, Lead – Dustin Kidby
Grand Slam Record: N/A
After having a dismal performance at last year’s Brier as the skip for Prince Edward Island, Adam Casey made the move to the land of the Green Riders and took over skipping duties for Shawn Meachem, who was the runner-up at last year’s provincials.
That move paid off as they obliterated Steve Laycock in the provincial final this year. Casey’s experience at the last couple of Briers should help this rink out, but this is the true Wild Card of this year’s field.
9) Northwest Territories (Jamie Koe)
The living legend has returned to run wild at the #Patch and curl along the way. With no pre-qualifying game to worry about this, I think Jamie should have a pretty solid week. Plus, I’m sure he wants to have just as good a result as his sister Kerry did at the Scotties.
10) Northwest Territories – Yellowknife Curling Club
Skip – Jamie Koe “3:16”, Vice – Chris Schille, Second – Brad Chorostkowski , Lead – Robert Borden
Grand Slam Record: N/A
“So I won the game “WHAT” I took the team out “WHAT” Went to the patch “WHAT” Sat down and chatted with friends “WHAT”, Had a beer “WHAT” Two Beers “WHAT” Three Beers “WHAT” a shot of whiskey “WHAT” a margarita “WHAT” and a bloody mary”
Ahem…. Anyway, the king of the patch has returned and he will probably raise hell over there. Besides the usual chaos over there, he might be in contention for a few more wins at this year’s Brier since he does not have to worry about the relegation round anymore. Since this year’s field isn’t as crazy strong as the last couple of years, he should have a better showing at the end of the week.
10) Saskatchewan (Adam Casey)
As Brett mentioned earlier, this is a team that can finish anywhere in the final standings. Casey’s a talented shooter, but it’s always tough for a team that doesn’t play a ton on the World Curling Tour to make adjustments to playing at the Brier. Just look at what happened to Saskatchewan women’s champion Penny Barker last week.
11) Nova Scotia – Halifax Curling Club
Skip – Jamie “Don’t Call Me Charlie” Murphy, Vice – Jordan Pinder, Second – Scott Saccary, Lead – Phil Crowell
Grand Slam Record: N/A
Last year Jamie Murphy suffered a heartbreaking final shot loss in the pre-qualifying final to Jamie Koe. So Murphy is back in the pre-qualification round once again and it’s basically a two horse race with him and Prince Edward Island. I think he should be able to qualify for the main field and also have a chance to end an 11 game losing streak in the round-robin.
11) Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy)
With no Jamie Koe in the mix, Murphy should be able to get through with ease. I’m not sure if he’ll surprise in the main field, but he should be able to get Nova Scotia’s first round-robin win in quite some time.
12) New Brunswick – Capital Winter Club (Fredericton)
Skip – Mike Kennedy, Vice – Scott Jones, Second – Marc LeCocq, Lead – Jamie Brannen
Grand Slam Record: N/A
To be honest I feel bad picking New Brunswick in this spot again, as Mike Kennedy was our biggest surprise at last year’s Brier. This is a team that can make a lot of shots, and they should play well all week long, so they can be a team that surprise once again.
12) New Brunswick (Mike Kennedy)
This veteran squad will play well all week, especially since they are already locked in the main draw, but it’s hard to see them anywhere else but the bottom of the pack with how strong this year’s field is once again.
13) Prince Edward Island – Charlottetown Curling Complex
Skip – Eddie Mackenzie, Vice – Sean Ledgerwood, Second – Matt Nabuurs, Lead – Robbie Doherty
Grand Slam Record: N/A
After Adam Casey left Prince Edward Island, it’s up to Eddie Mackenzie to get them back out of the relegation zone. In his last appearance at a Brier in 2014, he had his best showing with a 4-7 record so he does have experience going for him. If he does manage to make the field I can only see him being in the 10th to 12th place range.
13) Prince Edward Island (Eddie Mackenzie)
The battle between Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island will be a big one as they try to get a third team from the East Coast into this year’s field. They’ll give Murphy all they can handle, but it’s hard to see them doing well in the main field.
14) Yukon – Whitehorse Curling Club
Skip – Craig Kochan, Vice – Jon Solberg (Throws 4th Stones), Second – Ray Mikkelsen, Lead – Darrin Frederickson
Grand Slam Record: N/A
This year we have a brand new representative for the Yukon and its Craig Kochan. Kochan himself is a multi-time Northern Ontario Junior Champion and has competed in Canadian Mixed championships as a skip for Northern Ontario. It’s still difficult to tell how this rink will perform since they don’t play on tour much at all though, they could maybe give Nova Scotia and PEI a bit of a scare.
14) Yukon (Craig Kochan)
Nothing like another Northern Ontario connection in the field. The Yukon will be another pesky team, though maybe not on the same level as the women’s side with Sarah Koltun in the coming years, but I’m not sure if they’ll be able to make it in the main field.
15) Nunavut – Iqaluit Curling Club
Skip – Jim Nix, Vice – Edmund MacDonald, Second – Greg Howard, Lead – Darryl McGrath
Grand Slam Record: N/A
We also have a new representative this year for Nunavut in Jim Nix. We don’t know much at all about the Nunavut squad this year but the same thing applies as before. If they can keep things close then it would be good for the future especially since they will be in the main field next year with the new pool format.
15) Nunavut (Jim Nix)
As we’ve said before, this is all about experience for Nunavut. Hopefully the province can get some decent showings in the junior ranks in the coming years as they get thrown to the wolves on the men’s side.