A Prairie rivalry will be renewed when the 2019 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by AGI, kicks off Saturday at Westoba Place in Brandon, Man.
The host Manitoba team, skipped by Brandon-born Mike McEwen, will take on Saskatchewan’s Kirk Muyres of Saskatoon in the opening draw Saturday at 2 p.m. (all times Central) of the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship.
Later Saturday, Brad Gushue’s Team Canada squad from St. John’s begins its quest for a Tim Hortons Brier three-peat, taking on Brier rookie Scott McDonald of Ontario (Kingston).
With a gold medal in Brandon, Gushue, with the same team that prevailed in 2017 at St. John’s and last year in Regina (vice-skip Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker, alternate Tom Sallows, coach Jules Owchar) would join the Randy Ferbey Alberta team (2001, 2002, 2003) as the only teams ever to win three straight Tim Hortons Brier championships
Sixteen teams, representing the 14 Curling Canada member associations, Team Canada and the winner of the Wild Card game on Friday at 7 p.m. (Team Brendan Bottcher of Edmonton vs. Team John Epping of Toronto) have been seeded (by the CTRS standings, as of Dec. 31, 2018) and separated into two pools. The Wild Card Game winner will automatically go in as the No. 3 seed.
They’ll first play a round robin within their pool, after which the top four in each advance to the Championship Pool for four games against teams from the other pool. Upon completion, the top four teams (best overall won-lost records) proceed to the Page Playoffs on Saturday (1 vs. 2, winner to final, loser to semifinal; 3 vs. 4, winner to semifinal, loser eliminated).
The semifinal is Sunday, March 10, at 1 p.m., while the gold-medal game is at 7 p.m.
But before the round-robin games begin on Saturday, the Wild Card game Friday night between Team Bottcher and Team Epping — a rematch of the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier semifinal (won by Team Bottcher) — will get Brier Fever stoked in Brandon. Admission is free, with donations to the Curling Canada Foundation in support of junior curling being accepted at the door.
Gushue will be making his 16th Brier appearance, but won’t be the only skip chasing a spot in the record books in Brandon. Alberta’s Kevin Koe — whom Gushue defeated in the 2017 final — has a chance to win his fourth Tim Hortons Brier title, which would make him just the fourth skip ever to win four Canadian men’s championships; Ferbey, Kevin Martin and Ernie Richardson are the others.
Saturday’s Opening Ceremony (free with a Draw 1 ticket) is at 12:30 p.m.
The winning team will represent Canada at the 2019 Pioneer Hi-Bred World Men’s Curling Championship, presented by Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning and Plumbing, March 30-April 7 in Lethbridge, Alta. The winner will also defend its title as Team Canada in the 2020 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by AGI, in Kingston, Ont.
Here’s a look at how the two pools in Brandon set up:
(teams listed according to seeding, and listed in order of skip, vice-skip, second, lead, alternate, coach; hometown and CTRS ranking as of Dec. 31)
2. Northern Ontario, Brad Jacobs (Ryan Fry, E.J. Harnden, Ryan Harnden, Lee Toner, Adam Kingsbury; Sault Ste. Marie, 3)
3. Team Wild Card, Brendan Bottcher (Darren Moulding, Brad Thiessen, Karrick Martin Edmonton)
6. Manitoba, Mike McEwen (Reid Carruthers, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson; Rob Meakin; West St. Paul, 11)
7. Saskatchewan, Kirk Muyres (Kevin Marsh, Daniel Marsh, Dallan Muyres, Lyle Muyres; Saskatoon, 12)
10. Quebec, Martin Crête (Philippe Lemay, Éric Sylvain, Philippe Ménard, Philippe Brassard, Robert Ménard; Saint-Romuald, 58)
11. Newfoundland/Labrador, Andrew Symonds (Chris Ford, Adam Boland, Keith Jewer, Craig Jewer; St. John’s, 141)
14. Prince Edward Island, John Likely (Anson Carmody, Steve Burgess, Robbie Doherty, Matt Nabuurs; Alberton/Charlottetown, NR)
15. Yukon, Jon Solberg (Bob Smallwood, Clinton Abel, Scott Odian; Whitehorse, NR)
1. Alberta, Kevin Koe (B.J. Neufeld, Colton Flasch, Ben Hebert, John Dunn; Calgary, 1)
4. Team Canada, Brad Gushue (Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker, Tom Sallows, Jules Owchar; St. John’s, 4)
5. Ontario, Scott McDonald (Jonathan Beuk, Wesley Forget, Scott Chadwick, Jeff Grant, Sean Turriff; Kingston, 8)
8. Nova Scotia, Stuart Thompson (Colten Steele, Travis Colter, Taylor Ardiel, Bill MacPhee, Kevin Patterson; Dartmouth, 25)
9. British Columbia, Jim Cotter (Steve Laycock, Tyrel Griffith, Rick Sawatsky, Brad Wood; Vernon, 39)
12. Northwest Territories, Jamie Koe (David Aho, Matthew Ng, Cole Parson; Yellowknife, NR)
13. New Brunswick, Terry Odishaw (Jordan Pinder, Marc Lecoq, Grant Odishaw, Jamie Brannen; Moncton, NR)
16. Nunavut, Dave St. Louis (Peter Mackey, Jeff Nadeau, Lloyd Kendall, Barry Westman; Iqaluit, NR)