Calgary’s curling bubble has a new set of inhabitants as the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by AGI, kicks off Friday at WinSport Arena at Canada Olympic Park.
The Canadian Men’s Curling Championship will open with an 8:30 p.m. (all times Eastern) draw featuring defending champions Team Canada, skipped by Brad Gushue, taking on Ontario’s John Epping (Toronto).
Gushue, backed up by vice-skip Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker, alternate Ryan McNeil Lamswood and coach Jules Owchar, will be attempting to become just the second team in Tim Hortons Brier history to win back-to-back titles on two occasions. The only other team to pull it off were the legendary Richardsons, skipped by Ernie Richardson. The Saskatchewan team won Brier titles in 1959 and 1960, and then back to back again in 1961 and 1962.
Team Gushue won in 2017 and 2018, and is trying to repeat its victory from last year at Kingston, Ont.
But one other team has history in its sights, as Team Wild Card #2’s Kevin Koe (Calgary) is looking to win his fifth Tim Hortons Brier as a skip, which would give him sole possession of a record (four wins as a skip) he shares currently with Richardson, Randy Ferbey and Kevin Martin. Gushue, meanwhile, would join that elite club with a victory in Calgary.
As was the case for the recently completed Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Tim Hortons Brier will be played in a strictly enforced, no-fans bubble.
The winning team will return to the bubble in Calgary to wear Canadian colours at the 2021 BKT Tires/OK Tire World Men’s Curling Championship, presented by New Holland, which is scheduled for April 2-11.
Additionally, the Tim Hortons Brier champions qualify for the Tim Hortons Curling Trials, presented by AGI, next November in Saskatoon, where Canada’s four-player men’s and women’s teams for the 2022 Winter Olympics will be decided, and will play as Team Canada at the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier in Lethbridge, Alta., in addition to pocketing first-place prize money of $100,000.
The field was expanded to 18 teams for this year only to accommodate teams that didn’t get an opportunity to compete for their provincial or territorial championship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The teams will be separated into two pools of nine, seeded based on their final standing in the 2019-20 Canadian Team Ranking System.
They will play a full round robin within their respective pools, and then the top four teams in each pool will move on to the Championship Pool, and play four more games against the teams from the other pool. Their preliminary pool records will be carried forward.
From there, the top three teams will make the playoffs; the first-place team after the Championship Pool will go straight to the gold-medal game (March 14, 8:30 p.m.), while the second- and third-place teams will meet in the semifinal (March 14, 2:30 p.m.)
The familiar four-team Page Playoff format couldn’t be used because it takes two extra draws, and with the field expansion, there wasn’t time available in the schedule, and it would have forced teams to play more games in a limited amount of time.
Here’s a look at how the two pools set up:
(teams listed according to seeding, and listed in order of skip, vice-skip, second, lead, alternate, coach/High Performance Consultant)
1. Northern Ontario, Brad Jacobs (Marc Kennedy, E.J. Harnden, Ryan Harnden, Lee Toner, Rick Lang; Sault Ste. Marie)
4. Alberta, Brendan Bottcher (Darren Moulding, Brad Thiessen, Karrick Martin, Patrick Janssen, Don Bartlett; Edmonton)
5. Wild Card #1, Mike McEwen (Reid Carruthers, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson, Rob Meakin; West St. Paul, Man.)
8. Manitoba, Jason Gunnlaugson (Adam Casey, Matt Wozniak, Connor Njegovan, Jacques Gauthier; Morris)
9. Wild Card #3, Glenn Howard (Scott Howard, David Mathers, Tim March, Wayne Middaugh; Penetanguishene, Ont.)
12. British Columbia, Steve Laycock (Jim Cotter, Andrew Nerpin, Rick Sawatsky, Tyler Tardi, Gerry Adam; Vernon)
13. New Brunswick, James Grattan (Paul Dobson; NOTE – Paul Dobson will not be participating; Jonathan Beuk to play vice-skip; Andy McCann, Jamie Brannen, Kevin Keefe; Oromocto)
16. Northwest Territories, Greg Skauge (Tom Naugler, Brad Patzer, Robert Borden, David Aho; Yellowknife)
17. Yukon, Dustin Mikkelsen (Alexx Peech, Brandon Hagen, Robert Mckinnon, Ray Mikkelsen; Whitehorse)
2. Ontario, John Epping (Ryan Fry, Mat Camm, Brent Laing, Jim Wilson; Toronto)
3. Team Canada, Brad Gushue (Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker, Ryan McNeil Lamswood, Jules Owchar; St. John’s)
6. Wild Card #2, Kevin Koe (B.J. Neufeld, John Morris, Ben Hebert, Mike Caione, John Dunn; Calgary)
7. Saskatchewan, Matt Dunstone (Braeden Moskowy, Kirk Muyres, Dustin Kidby, Adam Kingsbury; Wadena)
10. Nova Scotia, Jamie Murphy (NOTE – Jamie Murphy will not be participating; Scott McDonald to skip; Paul Flemming, Scott Saccary, Phil Crowell, Kevin Ouellette; Halifax)
11. Quebec, Mike Fournier (Martin Crête, Félix Asselin, Jean-François Trépanier, William Dion, Benoit Forget; Glenmore/Etchemin/Valleyfield)
14. Newfoundland/Labrador, Greg Smith (Greg Blyde, Alex McDonah, Evan McDonah, Adam Boland, Leslie Anne Walsh; St. John’s)
15. Prince Edward Island, Eddie MacKenzie (Tyler Smith, Sean Ledgerwood, Ryan Lowery, Aaron Bartling; Crapaud/Montague)
18. Nunavut, Peter Mackey (Jeff Nadeau, Greg Howard, Jeff Chown, Brady St. Louis; Iqaluit)