Before we get rolling I just want to point out this is the hardest bit of predictions I have ever done, even more so than last year’s Olympic Trials. You can make a case in my opinion for the top nine teams (Brett seems to have excluded Ontario from this) to win this event, and I would buy that argument. This is the best Brier field I’ve ever seen and I can’t wait for this event to get started.
Now that the Scotties is over it’s now Brier time as we head to Calgary where the field is really stacked. You can make a case for at least eight teams to have a legitimate shot at winning the Brier Tankard. So without a doubt this is one of the toughest fields to predict so don’t be surprised if these picks are way off. Once again, the Grand Slam Records will be mentioned like we did at the Scotties with the Masters of Curling, The National and the Canadian Open all being included.
1) Northern Ontario – Soo Curlers Association
Skip – Brad Jacobs “J-Cups, Vice -Ryan “Medium Size” Fry “79”, Second – E.J Harnden, Lead – Ryan Harnden
Grand Slam Record: 12-8 (Semi-Finalist, Runner-Up, Quarter Finalist)
The Olympic champs are back and to be honest, they are the most consistant team on paper even though they have won one event this year. Though in true Team Jacobs tradition, they have done things the hard way as they had to win out to make the playoffs. Also Ryan Fry’s play has not been as great this year as he has missed some shots he would make with his eyes closed.
However when this team gets on a roll almost nobody can stop them, and in two of their losses in finals (Canada Cup and The National) it was to a certain team that lost a certain provincial…..Hmm who could that be? (Oooo, throwing shade at Mike McEwen)
Either way if they can keep winning and not have to do things the hard way they are the favourites to win a second title.
1) Brad Gushue (Newfoundland & Labrador)
Alright, we got our first disagreement. So why have I gone against Northern Ontario? Well there’s three reasons. Firstly, I’ve had this hunch that Gushue is going to win the Brier since about October. Secondly, the return of Mark Nichols has done wonders for this team as they have won two Grand Slams already this season. Thirdly, Gushue is always good it seems in odd-numbered years at the Brier. Put it all together, and that’s why I have Gushue finally winning the Canadian title for the first time.
2) Newfoundland & Labrador – Bally Haly Country Club (St. John’s)
Skip – Brad Gushue, Vice – Mark “Bam Bam” Nichols, Second – Brett Gallant, Lead – Geoff Walker
Grand Slam Record – 14-6 (Win, DNQ, Win)
This year has been one of Brad Gushue’s most successful to date with two Grand Slam victories, even though they had a DNQ in the other and their Canada Cup appearance was not that impressive. The return of Mark Nichols to the Gushue rink is a major boost and the lineup is probably the best Gushue has had in quite a while. If they can perform well and not force Gushue to make hero shots then perhaps he may finally get that ever elusive first Brier crown.
2) Brad Jacobs (Northern Ontario)
If it wasn’t for my Gushue hunch, the defending Olympic gold medalist would be my pick to win it all. They are the top team in the World at the moment (although defenders of a certain Manitoba team who has yet to make a Brier would tell you otherwise) and it’s hard to bet against them. This time, however, they won’t come in under the radar.
3) Alberta – Glencoe Club (Calgary)
Skip – Kevin Koe, Vice – Marc Kennedy, Second – Brent Laing “Lainger”, Lead – “Benny Heebz” Ben Hebert
Grand Slam Record – 10-6 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, Semi-Finalist)
As we mentioned before in our provincial previews, this lineup is godly, at least on paper. However, they have not have that strong of a season.
There have been times where they have looked great and there have been times where they looked really bad. Though it’s probably more of a case of feeling things out as this team’s lineup is new for Koe himself.
It could be perhaps a bit of a reach to pick this team this high considering the year they have had. Though I do think this lineup is way too good to not be talked about as a podium threat at the very least.
3) Kevin Koe (Alberta)
The defending champion is back with a brand-new team that is gearing up for a run at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Given their season to date it’s easy to write them off but I fear anything less than a semi-final prediction would be foolish, even if I have them finishing behind the two Brad’s. Also, the Marc Kennedy vs. Ryan Fry matchup at third is going to be amazing, even though the CCA booked that game for Sunday morning. That schedule maker should be fired.
4) Manitoba – West St. Paul Curling Club
Skip – Reid Carruthers, Vice – “Pimp” Braeden Moskowy, Second – Derek Samagalski, Lead – Colin Hodgson
Grand Slam Record – 8-4 (N/A, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist)
After last season Jeff Stoughton cleaned house and Reid Carruthers decided to become a skip again. He has put together a pretty decent combination, with a former Canadian Junior champion (Moskowy) and a former Brier Competitor as well (Samagalski).
Although we have not seen a lot of this team, Carruthers has definitely picked up his shooting ability and Samagalski’s big weight ability helps too. Overall for a first year team it is a pretty potent combination, however this is Carruthers first ever Brier as a skip so it’s tough to say how it will go for him.
4) John Morris (Team Canada)
Brett will get into his reasons why he’s not convinced on Johnny Mo’s squad a little bit later on, but I have this team as a playoff threat. Sure their season hasn’t been stellar with a limited schedule, but you have three members of last year’s championship team and a skip who almost led Jim Cotter to a Brier and Olympic Trials title a year ago. Doubt this rink at your own peril.
5) Saskatchewan – Nutana Curling Club (Saskatoon)
Skip – Steve Laycock, Vice – Kirk Muyres, Second – Colton Flasch “Gordon Saviour of the Universe”, Lead – Dallan Muyres
Grand Slam Record – 11-7 (Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Runner-Up)
This year has been a career year for Steve Laycock. In addition to making his first ever Grand Slam final and coming inches short of his first title at the Canadian Open, he has also had two wins on the World Curling Tour as well. This is a team that just seems to get better and better ever since we took notice of them at the pre-trials two years ago and Laycock has become a more complete player. They have a pretty good shot at making their first playoff appearance but with the field as stacked as this one is, it’s going to be extremely tough.
5) Mike McEwen (Manitoba)
After some tough luck, Mike McEwen actualized all of the years of dominance on the World Curling Tour by…wait what’s that? HE LOST THE PROVINCIAL FINAL AGAIN?!?!?
In all seriousness the luck this team is on at the provincials is just horrific. I picked the team I’ll mention shortly to win the event but now it’s just getting to the point with McEwen where it’s starting to become gut-wrenching. Here’s hoping the lineup stays intact and gets to the Brier soon.
5) Reid Carruthers (Manitoba)
This is a team that I loved on paper the moment I saw it, and not just because my boy Braeden Moskowy is there. This is a solid squad from top to bottom that will probably trade provincial titles with McEwen in the years to come. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs in their first go-around, but I expect them to be in the mix for a tiebreaker at least.
6) British Columbia – Vernon & Kelowna CC
Skip – Jimmmmmmm Cotter, Vice – Ryan Kuhn, Second – Tyrel Griffith, Lead – Rick Sawatsky
Grand Slam Record – 3-6 (DNQ, N/A, Quarter-Finalist)
What a different a year makes. Last year Jim Cotter was one win away for a stunning Olympic trials win and he was one win away from his first Brier crown. Now he is back to his usual darkhorse role as he looks to prove that he can get it done as a skip and that he does not need John Morris to help him, which is what a lot of people are going to be talking about.
In terms of this season, they got off to a pretty slow start but they have picked up their play in the second half of the year. Can he beat any of the big teams to make playoffs? It’s going to be real tough.
6) Jean-Michel Menard (Quebec)
After two strong showings in the last two Briers, I expect the 2006 champion to be in the mix once again. I would probably have this team in the playoffs as well if it wasn’t for the insane depth that is on display in Calgary this week.
7) Quebec – Club De Curling Etchemin (Saint-Romuald)
Skip – Jean-Michel Menard, Vice – Martin Crete, Second – Eric Sylvain, Lead – Philippe Menard
Grand Slam Record – N/A
Jean-Michel Menard has had a major resurgence the past two years at the Brier and he’s almost rekindled his title form from 2006. With this year’s lineup, he is probably the true wildcard in the field as you can perhaps make a case for him to get back on the podium or finishing mid pack, it’s just that close. Either way prepare to have your glass and speakers destroyed from his screaming. (Disclaimer: The Punkari Brothers will not be held responsible for glass and speaker damage, you’ve been warned.)
7) Steve Laycock (Saskatchewan)
Now we get into the teams where I feel like I’ve ranked them lower than I should have. In addition to his great year on the tour, Laycock probably should have made the playoffs in a tiebreaker game last year at the Brier if it wasn’t for a late collapse against James Grattan. I expect him to be strong this week, but it will be tough to make the playoffs in this field.
8) Team Canada – Glencoe Club (Calgary)
Skip – John ‘Johnny Mo’ Morris, Vice – Pat Simmons, Second – Carter Rycroft, Lead – Nolan Thiessen
Grand Slam Record – 7-9 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, DNQ) Note: Scott Bailey was playing second for all of the Grand Slam events
So John Morris has left Jim Cotter’s team to take over the old Kevin Koe rink and decided to play a somewhat limited schedule. Thus far it has not gone real well as it has been a major struggle for the most part, including a 1-5 record at the Canada Cup. Although they have looked better in recent months, it’s tough to see them doing well considering the limited schedule they played in this year, even though this is a good lineup on paper.
8) Jim Cotter (British Columbia)
It’s not that I think Jim Cotter is going to have a bad week. I just think no more Johnny Mo will lead to some struggles that they might not have dealt with a year ago. With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if last year’s runner-up is in the mix for a tiebreaker by the end of the round-robin.
9) Ontario – Fenelon Falls CC
Skip – Mark Kean, Vice – Mat Camm, Second – David Mathers, Lead – Scott Howard
Grand Slam Record – 1-4 (N/A, DNQ, N/A)
Mark Kean was mostly known for being a good but not great team on the tour and in Ontario over the past couple of years. Then all of a sudden, Kean’s fortunes took a turn for the better as he recruited a former Canadian Junior runner-up skip (in Camm) and two players who won a grand slam with John Epping (in Mathers and Howard.
On paper, this is a pretty darn good young lineup who could potentially be a threat down the road if they stick together. However with the amount of great teams at this year’s event, it could be a tough learning experience, but they may scare some people.
9) Mark Kean (Ontario)
For me, this is the biggest wild-card of the entire field. One of my favourite young teams in all of men’s curling at the moment, I was pleasantly surprised to see them reach the Brier. A 6-5 record wouldn’t stun me, but it’s going to be quite hard to do well at a Brier for the first time with a field as good as this one is.
10) Northwest Territories – Yellowknife Curling Centre
Skip – Jamie Koe “3:16”, Vice – Mark Whitehead, Second – Brad Chorostkowski, Lead – Robert Borden
Grand Slam Record – N/A
“You talk about your guards, your taps and your John 3:16, Koe 3:16 says I just whipped your Ass!” Yeah we know he is not Stone Cold but Koe 3:16 was the shirt he had at last year’s Brier so I had to run with it. Anyway, this is the toughest lineup the former fourth place finisher has ever had to deal with, though there are some teams near the bottom he could knock off.
He is always very capable of pulling off a couple of his big upsets as well, so while it may be tough, I see Koe 3:16 staying out of relegation.
10) Adam Casey (Prince Edward Island)
The clear-cut favourite to advance out of pre-qualifying, this talented young line-up sure picked the wrong year to make it onto the scene. I expect that Casey and his rink will pull off a couple of upsets and escape relegation.
11) Prince Edward Island – Silver Fox Curling & Yacht Club (Summerside)
Skip – Adam Casey, Vice – Josh Barry, Second – Anson Carmody, Lead – Robbie Doherty
Grand Slam Record – 3-6 (N/A, DNQ, DNQ)
We already talked about how this team came about in our provincial preview and of course they will be fighting through the relegation round to get in. What I’ve learned about Adam himself as a skip is that he is not afraid to be very aggressive and potentially try crazy and insane shots that either make look like a hero or zero.
So could he perhaps make a case to try for shot of the week honours? It wouldn’t surprise me. In all honesty, this team is real young and will be great for PEI in the future, but not with this stacked field.
11) Jamie Koe (Northwest Territories)
Poor Jamie. Had this been any other year I would have them in the mid-pack, but not with this stacked lineup. They should still be safe from avoiding relegation though, as they have loads of experience at the Brier.
12) New Brunswick – Thistle St. Andrews Curling Club (Saint John)
Skip – Jeremy Mallais, Vice – Zach Eldridge, Second – Chris Jeffrey, Lead – Jason Vaughn
Grand Slam Record – N/A
In perhaps the upset of the provincials, Jeremy Mallais stunned multi-time New Brunswick champion James Grattan. The trouble is, Jeremy has never been on a stage like this before and a lot of NB curlers are used to straight ice. So that combination will unfortunately see New Brunswick drop to the relegation round in my opinion.
12) Jeremy Mallais (New Brunswick)
Sure he’s been at a couple of Juniors in the past, but I fear Mallais is being thrown to the wolves at this week’s event. If they avoid relegation, that should be considered a huge accomplishment.
13) Nova Scotia – Mayflower CC (Halifax)
Skip – Glen MacLeod (Throws Third), Vice – Peter Burgess (Throws Skip), Second-Colten Steele, Lead-Rob Mclean
Grand Slam Record – N/A
In another upset Glen MacLeod upset former Nova Scotia champ Jamie Murphy to make it to the Brier. He is in the relegation round where he has to face Adam Casey, which will be a real tough task, so I think Nova Scotia will miss its first ever Brier, since they have been there since the beginning.
13) Glen MacLeod (Nova Scotia)
MacLeod has been to the Brier once before a third for Paul Flemming’s 5-6 Nova Scotia rink in 1998, so he knows what to expect. However, he’ll be in tough against Casey and even if he wins that game, I think he’ll be in that relegation mix with New Brunswick.
14) Yukon – Whitehorse Curling Club
Skip – Robert Smallwood, Vice – Wade Scoffin, Second – Steve Fecteau, Lead – Clint Ireland
Grand Slam Record – N/A
Robert Smallwood has been to a Brier before but that was years ago, and this is the first time in quite a long time that Yukon has returned to the Brier. If a certain young skip (Shout-out to Brett’s boy Thomas Scoffin) returns to his province and leads this team then they might be able to fight out of relegation. However, with this current lineup, that won’t be the case.
14) Robert Smallwood (Yukon)
In his previous two trips to the Brier, Smallwood went 2-9 in 1994 (with wins over PEI’s Mike Gaudet and Alberta’s Ed Lukowich) and repeated that mark in 1995 (with wins over Alberta’s Kevin Martin and New Brunswick’s Bryan MacPherson). Perhaps Kevin Koe should be worried, but it’s hard to see this rink making it that far. If they get to the play-in game against Casey, I would consider that mission accomplished.