Written by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)
As the provincial playdowns were wrapping up, we were just about on the verge of having a bizarre field at this year’s Brier in Brandon. Once the dust settled though, we ended up with a mostly top-heavy field, though there are a few midfield wildcards in the mix.
Once again, our format is the same as our Scotties preview, as we’ll go 1-15 in the standings before talking about the two Wild Card teams, along with how everyone did on the Tour and Slam Circuits.
Before we begin, let’s look at the Pools.
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Northwest Territories
- Nova Scotia
- Team Canada
- Newfoundland & Labrador
- Northern Ontario
- Prince Edward Island
- Wild Card
1) Team Canada (Bally Haly Golf and Curling Club – St. John’s)
Skip – Brad Gushue, Vice – Mark “Bam Bam” Nichols, Second – Brett Gallant, Lead – Geoff Walker
Overall Season Record: 35-15
Grand Slam Record: 19-9 (Champion, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Semi-Finalist)
It’s been a fairly consistent season for Brad Gushue out on the tour, although he hasn’t had a ton of success in the playoffs in those events, other than than the Elite 10 at the start of the year. He has has addmited that the team is a little bit sloppy and just needs to sharpen things up a little bit. He has a chance to be the first skip since Randy Ferbey to win three Brier’s in a row this week, so it will be interesting to see if the Gushue of the last two years shows up come playoff time.
1) Team Canada (Brad Gushue)
When in doubt, go with the team that’s been the standard bearers in Canada for the last couple of seasons. As Brett said, they haven’t been dominant on the tour this year, but ask Rachel Homan how much that did for her at the Scotties. At any rate, with a chance to make history this week, I expect Gushue and his rink to be on top form. Plus, there’s also the possibility of the Edin/Gushue rubber match in Lethbridge at the Worlds, so that should get you fired up.
2) Northern Ontario (Community First Curling Centre – Sault Ste. Marie)
Skip – Brad Jacobs “Cups”, Vice – Ryan “Medium Size” Fry, Second – E.J Harnden “Edge”, Lead – Ryan “Pete” Harnden
Overall Season Record: 41-16
Grand Slam Record: 16-12 (Semi-Finalist, DNQ, Champion, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist)
Obviously the big story involving this rink this year was what happened with Ryan Fry out in Red Deer, but that hasn’t affected this team’s level of play one bit, as Marc Kennedy and Matt Wozniak filled in seamlessly in December.
Early on in the year, it looked the team hit a wall after missing the playoffs at the Slam for the first time since 2010. However, the arrival of Adam Kingsbury (yes, that Adam Kingsbury) seemed to do wonders as they seem to have mellowed out a bit and picked up wins at the Tour Challenge and the Canada Cup (when Kennedy played for fry). This looks to be their best best shot at a second Brier title, though they are in the tougher pool and have to face the Wild Card winner right off the bat.
2) Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)
Ryan Fry’s Red Deer misadventures asides, it’s been a pretty good season for the Soo Crew, especially with how they played since Adam Kingsbury came in. It’s their best chance at a title since 2015 when they lost to Pat Simmons in an extra-end and it should be a battle of the Brads in Brandon. However, Jacobs has lost a few strange games in the past, such as last year’s 3 vs. 4 game to Brendan Bottcher. If they can avoid those defeats, they should be in great shape.
3) Alberta (The Glencoe Club – Calgary)
Skip – Kevin “The ‘King’ of Clock Management” Koe, Vice – B.J. Neufeld, Second – Colton Flasch “Savior of the Universe”, Lead – “Benny Heebz” Ben Hebert
Overall Season Record: 45-19
Grand Slam Record: 18-10 (Quarter-Finalist, Runner-up, Quarter-Finalist, Semi-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist)
The new look Koe team has gotten off to a pretty start in the first year together, especially with at the first World Cup event back in the fall, although they have had a few situations where time clock problems have reared their ugly head. Clock chaos aside, Koe’s a deadly player when he’s on his game and not being indecisive on his shot calls. That indecision might be something to watch during the week.
3) Alberta (Kevin Koe)
Other than his rough result as the host province in 2015 in Calgary, Koe has made the final in all of his other trips to the Brier as a skip. I’m not sure his lineup is as strong as his previous squads, but his shot making alone should put in him the title mix again this week, as he looks to be the one team (depending on the Wild Card winner) that can spoil a Battle of the Brads in the final.
4) Manitoba (West St. Paul Curling Club)
Skip – “Magic” Mike McEwen, Vice – Reid Carruthers, Second – Derek Samagalski, Lead – Colin Hodgson
Overall Season Record: 47-28
Grand Slam Record: 10-13 (Runner-Up, DNQ, DNQ, DNQ, DNQ)
This is a team that can really leave you scratching your head with the amount of the struggles they’ve had this season. It seemed like the shuffling around between Carruthers and McEwen seemed to be the biggest issue early as their performances at the Slams and the Canada Cup weren’t great.
With McEwen now calling the game and throwing skip stones, things have turned around with wins in Japan and the Golden Wrench Classic in Arizona setting the stage for their Manitoba title. Everything seems to be clicking, but this might be the biggest wild card in the field when it comes to where they finish.
4) Manitoba (Mike McEwen)
With McEwen set to represent Manitoba in the town that he grew up in, it’s anyone guess as to where they finish. If they all click, they can match wits with the big three, but that’s been a rare occurrence this year. I think they can make the playoffs, but they can’t afford to have any bad games.
5) Saskatchewan (Nutana Curling Club – Saskatoon)
Skip – Kirk Muyers, Vice – Kevin Marsh, Second – Daniel Marsh, Lead – Dallan Muyers
Overall Season Record: 43-27
Grand Slam Record: 9-6 (Champion, DNQ, DNQ)
Here is an example of a team that’s climbed up the ranks and won when it mattered the most. After Matt Dunstone and Steve Laycock joined new rinks, Kirk Muyers became a skip as he brought along his brother Dallan and the Marsh Twins. They got better as the year went on, which was highlighted with a perfect week at the Tier II Tour Challenge in Thunder Bay and a provincial final win over Dunstone.
Muyers has plenty of experience with his trip to the Briers with Laycock, but to make it to the event as a skip for the first time is a great accomplishment. It might be tough to get in the playoffs, but he could reach the final four with an upset or two.
5) British Columbia (Jim Cotter)
You know how everyone talks about how Krista McCarville always contends at the Scotties despite playing in a couple of tour events all year? Well here’s the men’s version of that. Sure, Johnny Mo isn’t there anymore, but getting Steve Laycock is a huge boost for the lineup and I think they are a threat to sneak into the playoffs.
6) British Columbia (Kelowna and Vernon Curling Clubs)
Skip – “Jimmmmmmmmmmmmm” Cotter, Vice – Steve Laycock, Second – Tyrell Griffith, Lead – Rick Sawatsky
Overall Season Record: 25-8
Grand Slam Record: N/A
This is a team I feel like no one has been talking about, especially with the player who came over from Saskatchewan. Jim Cotter has been down this road before, however it has been documented that his record as a skip in the Brier has not been very good.
I feel like this could be his time though with the addition of Steve Laycock, only this time unlike the John Morris years it will be Cotter running the show. I believe Jim will have his best showing as a skip this week, but I think he’ll just miss out on the playoffs.
6) Ontario (Scott McDonald)
This is easily the biggest question mark in the field for me. Yes they’ve started to make strides on the tour and have made a couple of slams, but I don’t think anyone expected them to run the table in Ontario. I think it will be a good week for the team, but a playoff run in their first trip to the Brier might be too much to ask. Granted, I thought the same thing about Robyn Silvernagle at the Scotties.
7) Ontario (Cataraqui Golf & Country Club – Kingston)
Skip – Scott McDonald, Vice – Jonathan Beuk, Second – Wesley Forget, Lead – Scott Chadwick
Overall Season Record: 54-26
Grand Slam Record: 8-7 (Runner-Up, DNQ, DNQ)
The break out team of the year by a mile on the men’s circuit, McDonald also pulled off the biggest surprise of the provincials by running the tale in Ontario and beat John Epping three times. There could be a chance McDonald continues his run of form with how this field shakes out, but the Brier is a much different beast than anything else he’s been to. The championship pool might be as a far as he goes.
7) Saskatchewan (Kirk Muyers)
Our thoughts on Ontario can also be included for my expectations on this Saskatoon rink. Brett’s probably a little more higher on them than I am, and I do like a lot of the talent they have, but I’m not sure how they will fare in their first trip together to the Brier. We’ll see how things go, but they could go either way in the final standings.
8) Quebec (Club de Curling Etchemin – Saint-Romuald)
Skip – Martin Crete, Vice – Philippe Lemay, Second – Eric Sylvain, Lead – Phillipe Menard
Overall Season Record: 27-14
Grand Slam Record: N/A
There was a chance of a major change in Quebec with Jean-Michel Menard stepping back from the scene, but the rest of the rink stuck together with Martin Crete becoming a skip for the first time since his junior days. I’m not sure how he will fare in his first Brier in that role, but this team has a lot of experience and I think they can be a thorn in the top rinks sides all week.
8) Quebec (Martin Crete)
With the amount of major event experience they have, Crete’s rink should be in the mix for the championship pool and will probably pull off a surprise or two. The skip will also win the Russ Howard Award for biggest yeller in the field, but you knew that already.
9) New Brunswick (Curl Moncton)
Skip – Terry Odishaw, Vice – Jordan Pinder, Second – Marc LeCocq, Lead – Grant Odishaw
Overall Season Record: 9-2
Grand Slam Record: N/A
Terry Odishaw returns to the Brier for the first time since 2012 in Saskatoon, where they finished at 5-6 and could have made the playoffs. He’s brought in Jordan Pinder, who played with Jamie Murphy years ago, along with another veteran in Marc LeCocq. The experience factor should help, but I can’t seem them making the Championship Pool.
9) Northwest Territories (Jamie Koe)
Our hero is back at the Brier with a very young lineup. I’m not sure if that’s a result of what happened in Red Deer, but that’s another story. Given some of the teams that are here, I think he might sneak into the Championship Pool with a couple of big wins. That or he continues to lead the way at the #patch as God intended.
10) Nova Scotia (Dartmouth Curling Club)
Skip – Stuart Thompson, Vice – Colten Steele, Second – Travis Colter, Lead – Taylor Ardiel
Overall Season Record: 29-19
Grand Slam Record: N/A
A bronze medalist at the Canadian Juniors in 2013, Stuart Thompson gets his first shot at the Brier, but it could be a bit of a challenge. Although he has played against a few of the big guns and had a runner-up finish at the Stu Sells Toronto event earlier this season (where he lost to Reid Carruthers), I’m not expecting much from Nova Scotia this year.
10) New Brunswick (Terry Odishaw)
I had completely forgot about the fact that Odishaw was in the mix with Gushue, Jacobs and Jamie Koe for a playoff spot in Saskatoon a few years ago, so maybe he can be in the mix once again in Brandon. Okay, that might be a bit far fetched, but a Championship Pool run could happen with an upset or two.
11) Northwest Territories (Yellowknife Curling Centre)
Skip – Jamie “Patch” Koe, Vice – David Aho, Second – Matt Ng, Lead – Cole Parsons
Overall Season Record: 5-3
Grand Slam Record: N/A
Although Jamie’s now with a younger team than in years past, it might be a blessing in disguise for the region. Not only is there a former Canadian Junior player in David Aho, but playing with a skip with a ton of experience could allow this young squad to earn better results in the future. That, or Jamie will cause chaos at the #patch like he usually does.
11) Prince Edward Island (John Likely)
Now here’s a blast from the past. Having the younger players like Carmody and Doherty should help, but if you had told me John Likely was going to be at the Brier in 2019 I wouldn’t believe it. Who’s next? Glen Goss?
12) Prince Edward Island (Western Community Curling Club (Alberton) and Charlottetown Curling Complex)
Skip – John Likely, Vice – Anson Carmody, Second – Steve Burgess, Lead – Robbie Doherty
Overall Season Record: 7-1
Grand Slam Record: N/A
John Likely will be making his first Brier appearance since 2002 and he has a decent lineup with two players who have made recent trips to the Brier in Carmody and Doherty. There is some potential for a decent showing and a 3-4 record in Pool Play is possible, but that’s all I can see them doing.
12) Nova Scotia (Stuart Thompson)
I don’t think a Jamie Murphy like run is in the cards this week, but I feel like Thompson should still have an okay event, even though I have him lower in the standings than Brett does. This should bode well for Nova Scotia though with two legit provincial threats for the first time since the Dacey/Adams days. Well minus the whole facing the Ferbey Four in the finals thing.
13) Newfoundland & Labrador (Re/Max Centre – St. John’s)
Skip – Andrew Symonds, Vice – Chris Ford, Second – Adam Boland, Lead – Keith Jewer
Overall Season Record: 8-7
Grand Slam Record: N/A
With Brad Gushue once again being Team Canada, the number of teams in the Newfoundland provincials went up dramatically and we have another new rink coming to the Brier. Not a lot is known about Symonds, but former U Sports champion Adam Boland is at second, so it might be possible for them to do better than Greg Smith did a year ago.
13) Yukon (Jon Solberg)
Naturally, we all want Thomas Scoffin here, but Solberg and vice Bob Smallwood have experience at the Brier and I think they can do okay. Sure they won’t be a playoff threat, but I think they’ll do well enough to avoid being at the end of the pack.
14) Yukon (Whitehorse Curling Club)
Skip – Jon Solberg, Vice – Bob Smallwood, Second – Clinton Abel, Lead – Scott Odian
Overall Season Record: 4-1
Grand Slam Record: N/A
This is basically the same team that came to the Brier in 2016 in Ottawa, only to miss out on qualifying from the Play-In games. The one change is that Solberg is now the skip with Smallwood moving to vice, but don’t expect much in terms of results.
14) Newfoundland & Labrador (Andrew Symonds)
Symonds has nationals experience at the Travelers Club Championship and Boland is a young talent on the rise, but it’s hard to see this rink doing much. I’m sure they’ll be hoping Gushue wins a third straight title though, as it’s hard to get out of Newfoundland when he’s in the provincial mix.
15) Nunavut (Iqaluit Curling Club)
Skip – Dave St. Louis, Vice – Peter Mackey, Second – Jeff Nadeau, Lead – Lloyd Kendall
Overall Season Record: N/A
Grand Slam Record: N/A
Dave St. Louis’ first full run at the Brier had two okay games, but the rest of his games were blowout losses. He almost beat the Yukon in his placement pool game last year in Regina, so maybe will see some improvement this time around.
15) Nunavut (Dave St. Louis)
I think the overall goal for this rink should be the same as what the women’s squad did at the Scotties last week. They were competitive in their pool and also pulled off an upset by defeating Quebec. For this territory, a year-to-year improvement is the biggest thing for them at this point in time.
Wild Card Game Rinks
Wild Card Team #1 – John Epping (Leaside Curling Club – Toronto, Ontario)
Skip – “Big” John Epping, Vice – Matt Camm, Second – Brent Laing “Lainger”, Lead – Craig Savill
Overall Season Record: 49-29
Grand Slam Record: 16-13 (Semi-Finalist, Champion, DNQ, DNQ, Runner-Up)
It’s been an up and down season for Epping, though that seems like it’s been the case most years. He does have a much better lineup with the return of the Savill and Laing at the front end, so he should be a threat to win if he wins this game. Depending on what Epping shows up, they could finish anywhere from third to fifth. With that said, it would be great to see Savill play at the Brier again after he battled cancer in 2016.
Epping finally broke through to the Brier as a skip last year in Regina and was a threat to win it all, so it was a bit of a surprise to see him get beat three straight times by Scott McDonald in the Ontario playdowns. However, with a bronze medal a year ago and a strong team around him, Epping can be in the mix once again if he win the Wild Card game. At this point, I’d probably have him in the third to fifth place mix with Koe and McEwen.
Wild Card Team #2 – Brendan Bottcher (Saville Community Sports Centre – Edmonton)
Skip – Brendan Bottcher, Vice – Darren Moulding, Second – Brad Theissen, Lead – Karrick “The Jackhammer” Martin
Overall Season Record: 44-14
Grand Slam Record: 11-2 (Runner-Up,Champion)
This is a little bit of a surprise to see last year’s Brier runner-up in this situation, considering he seemed to be having an even better season than he did in 2018 as he won his first ever Grand Slam event in January. Then again, the Alberta provincial seemed to be tough for him as he lost twice to Ted Appleman and then was knocked off by Kevin Koe in the semifinal.
Of the two teams in this game, Bottcher would probably be the favourite to win and he would easily become a title threat. At the moment, I would probably have in the second to fourth place range if he beats Epping.
Bottcher would easily be in the mix with Gushue and Jacobs in my rankings if he had won the provincials, and I’d have him in third place easily if he beats Epping in the Wild Card game. The rink has been playing well all year long and I feel like they should beat Epping if they are on their game. Then again, I thought Kerri Einarson would win her Wild Card game last week and look where that got me.