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Friday, 27 February 2015

Rroolll Up The Rim....on a Brier Win!
#2015Brier hits Calgary with All-Star field 

Before we get going on the #2015Brier preview, can we just take a moment to reflect on the outstanding viewership numbers for the #2015Scotties?  Over 7.2 million viewers watched some or all of the Scotties in Moose Jaw.  The average audience through the week was 556,000 viewers.  This is great news for the sport of curling.  This also speaks volumes to the stellar field we saw in Moose Jaw.  Congrats to all the athletes, organizing committee, TSN and to all the fans who helped create this viewership success.

Soooo....can the #2015Brier see similar, or higher, numbers this week?  Well, when you scan through the field this year I would be quite comfortable saying I would take the over bet if this was an over/under betting option.  This is, arguably, the strongest field we have seen at a Brier in years.  Picking a favorite, trying to figure out who will make the playoffs and seeing if perhaps 5 losses can get you a tiebreaker this year are all tough questions to answer.  Calgary is going to be rocking with 2 Alberta teams on the ice as well.

I am excited to announce #TwineTime will be in Calgary next week and I will do my best to live blog some of the draws and maybe...just maybe....get some one on one time with a few of these all-star athletes.  Follow along here and on twitter for more info and feel free to send me suggestions on questions you would like to ask your favorite curler.  If I have the chance to meet any, I promise I will do my best to ask your questions.  This blog is #4TheFans after all.  I will also be assisting with CurlingGeek covering a few games.  Be sure to check them out for a more interactive viewing experience, covering the games not featured on TSN.  Selfishly, I am really hoping I can land a quick selfie with Russ Howard.  Look out for that....

Ok onto the preview show....

As we saw with the Scotties, there are new changes in place this year.  For the first time, the Maple Leaf will be on the ice, covering the back of last year's champions.  We have seen a Team Canada at the Scotties for many years but this will be a first for the Brier.  And what a perfect backdrop for the first Team Canada...hometown Calgary!  A battle of Alberta will occur Tuesday night...be ready!

Pre-Qualification

We will also see the first pre-qualification event at the Brier.  We saw how this went at the Scotties.  There were many issues and complaints across blogs (mine included HERE), social media and just general word of mouth.  Well the issue of pre-qualification is not going away right now, hopefully some of the issues on scheduling will be re-vamped for the three teams participating.  We will see the first Team Yukon (Robert Smallwood) as well.  As we also saw at the Scotties, the territorial champions will now represent their home territory and not the jointed Yukon/NWT banner they flew under in the past.  Nunavut was invited to attend but, similar to the Scotties, declined the invite as they feel they require more time to properly prepare.  Based on previous year's results, Nova Scotia (Peter Burgess) and Prince Edward Island (Adam Casey) will join Yukon in a three team shootout to make the Brier field.  This will be a mini round robin with each team playing one another and the top two teams playing in the featured game on the opening draw for the right to be the final team in the field.  Again, if the teams finish 1-1, a draw to the button will decide which teams advance and who goes home.

In this field, we have an overwhelming favorite in PEI.  I think this would be a huge upset if Casey and the Islanders did not qualify.  I see them pulling similar a similar result to Team Northern Ontario (Horgan) at the Scotties.  They should roll quite easily through the two round robin games and find themselves facing their fellow Atlantic competitors, Nova Scotia, in the qualification game.  We saw what the extra games did for Horgan and the success they had, don't be surprised to see a similar result from PEI and Team Casey.  Remember, this team is currently ranked #19 on the world curling tour rankings and have had success on tour this season (including two Grand Slam event appearances).  If they do make it through the qualification stage, they will not be scared to face any of the teams already in the field and could easily become the dark horse to put your money on.  I will say that it will be a bit sad to possibly not see Nova Scotia compete in the Brier.  They were the very first winner of the Brier (back in 1927 known as the Macdonald Brier), just seems wrong to not have the Bluenosers there.

The Favorites

Team Northern Ontario (Jacobs) - The "fitness freaks" are back!  Jacobs missed last year's Brier as he was busy winning Olympic Gold in Sochi.  The team has had a successful year on tour with a few runner-up finishes (National, Canada Cup) in Grand Slam events.  They only have one win on tour (Shorty Jenkins) but this team comes to play in big-time situations.  We saw what a year away from the national championship did for fellow Sochi champion Team Jennifer Jones at the Scotties, could lightning strike twice this year?  Interesting to note, the last Brier held in Alberta (Edmonton and I was there) was in 2013 when Jacobs won his first.  

Team Alberta (K. Koe) - The defending champion...skip!  Koe enters the Brier as the defending champion skip with a different team.  The breakup of last year's champion team is fully well-known and should be old news (it won't and many media outlets will probably focus a bit too much on this storyline).  Koe comes back to the Brier with a very successful team at his side.  Joining forces with Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert will make a formidable opponent for any team.  Worth noting, Koe has been in 3 previous Briers, winning 2 (2010, 2014) and taking a silver (2012).  That translates to one amazing winning percentage!  Should we just slot them into the final now?  With these boys playing on home ice, do not count them out.  They may just have a bit of luck on their side as well.  DYK all three previous Briers played at the Saddledome in Calgary resulted in Alberta victories?  Kevin Martin did it twine (1997, 2009) and Randy Ferby (2002). 

Watch Out For

Team Newfoundland & Labrador (Gushue) - The team everyone is dubbing as the team to watch and team to beat.  Could this finally be the year Gushue breaks through and wins his first Brier?  He already has the Olympic gold but he really wants to have Brier Champion added to his resume.  Yes, the field is the most competitive from top to bottom but that seems to favor Gushue.  Just look at his results on tour this year: 2 Grand Slam titles (Masters, Canadian Open) and ranked #3 in the world.  There is no team here Gushue cannot beat and his team should be entering with a ton of confidence.  The only concern could be the lack of playing time lately.  It was widely noted Gushue only had to "survive" a best-of-5 two-team championship final to qualify and had no problems in doing so.  But with Mark Nichols back at his side, this could be the year of the Rock.  Gushue would love to be the 1st Brier champ from the Rock since the sole win for the province in 1976.  At the same time, this is Gushue's 12th appearance with only 1 final to show (lost to Glenn Howard, 2007).  He must be feeling a bit of pressure.

Team Saskatchewan (Laycock) - Speaking of teams trying to end a long provincial drought, Saskatchewan is right up there.  The last SK champion was Rick Folk in 1980.  There have been many outstanding teams to throw on the Green Jacket in the past but Laycock and company may just be one of the best.  I also think they have one of the best chances to end the drought this province has seen in awhile.  #TeamOranje (known because of their bright orange gear on tour) suffered heartbreak last year, losing their final game on giving up a steal of 3 to New Brunswick that eliminated them from playoff contention and finishing with a 6-5 record.  This team has looked confident and driven all season.  They currently sit #7 on the world curling tour rankings, are coming off a win at the US Open of Curling to start 2015 and saw a breakthrough Grand Slam performance in Steve Laycock's hometown of Yorkton at the Canadian Open.  They have played and beat every team in this field and are quite capable of hanging with the so-called big boys throughout the week.  Do not be surprised if at the end of the week we see the transition of #TeamOranje to #TeamGreen to #TeamGolden

The Dark Horse

Team Quebec (Menard) - How quickly many people forget about Team Menard and his Quebec foursome.  This team does not play a lot of tour events during the season and, because of that, I think enter the national championship flying a bit under the radar.  I also don't think they mind that one bit.  Sure they enter only ranked #18, but let's remember this team took Koe to an extra end last year in the semi-final game and came oh so close to reaching the championship.  Never...ever...underestimate Jean-Michel Menard.  This will be Menard's ninth Brier appearance and lets also remember he is a former champion and world silver medalist (2006).  See, now you are remembering why this team is a threat aren't you?  Will they receive as much media attention and fan appreciation as say, Jacobs or Koe or Morris, probably not.  But then again, that could be the perfect plan for them.  Keep quiet, slug it out in the round robin, make the playoffs and pull a surprise to everyone by taking home another Brier championship.


The Field

Team Canada (Morris) - It is a bit weird to mention the defending champions here as I really feel they are a team to watch and are quite capable of making a run at repeating.  The core former Koe team (Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft, Nolan Thiessen) will be joined by the skip they beat in the final last year, John Morris.  Morris himself is always a crowd favorite and joining forces with the three returning champions, with home town support, will make this team a tough one to beat.  The only concern is the lack of playing time this team has had this season.  But, these guys are all professionals and past champions.  We know they will be ready and prepared to battle.  Here is a little DYK info: skip John Morris will be the 1st player in Brier history to participate in the event wearing 4 different team colors?  With him throwing on the Red and White this week, this will be an addition to previously representing British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.  With such a strong field though, any little slip up could be the difference between playoff weekend and sitting in the stands.  This team needs to get on a roll early, not an easy feat when you open with Manitoba and Newfoundland.

Team British Columbia (Cotter) - Welcome back Cotter.  Ok, I am sure that has been used over and over again but still...it fits!  Cotter and company return to the Brier after coming oh so close to winning last year.  Remember this team (now minus John Morris) lost both the Olympic trial and Brier final last season.  Talk about heartbreak.  But here they are, continuing to fight.  Jim Cotter is one of the best skips out there and can throw the hard hits to score multiple points or the soft draws to save an end.  New vice Ryan Kuhn has been a great addition to the team as well.  Can they replicate the results of last year?  That might be asking a lot given the field but I would not underestimate this team too much.

Team Manitoba (Carruthers) - Heading into playdowns everyone was talking about this finally being the year Mike McEwen would win a buffalo.  Team McEwen entered as the favorites and the #1 team in the world.  They were dominating the tour all season.  What people did not take into account was the drive and dedication of this newly formed team led by Reid Carruthers.  The #RamaRoll took off in Brandon.  While many were focused on waiting for a Mike vs Jeff final rematch, Team Carruthers just went about their business beating any team they were faced with and, ultimately, knocked off the favorite McEwen in the final.  But don't label this team as an underdog.  Remember Reid has tons of Brier (5th overall appearance) and world championship (2006 World Champion) experience.  Vice Braeden Moskowy is no stranger to competition either.  This will be his second Brier appearance (2013) but first representing the buffalo.  Combine the Brier experience of second Derek Samagalski (2012 bronze medal and all-star mention), Team Carruthers will not be nervous when they hit the ice at the Saddledome.  This team has had a tremendous season on tour as well, currently ranked #12 with a victory at Stu Sells Toronto and qualification spots at Grand Slam events The National and Canadian Open.  They may have some crowd support as well, lead Colin Hodgson is from Lacombe, Alberta and did represent (and win) a Canada Games gold medal for Alberta.

Team Ontario (Kean) - The young guns have arrived.  Mark Kean, Matt Camm, David Mathers and Scott Howard make their Brier debut and have many people expecting them to make a run towards the playoffs.  Many curling fans outside of Ontario may not be familiar with this team but that will change quite quickly this week.  In fact, I see this team picking up a lot of fans.  They can curl and they can play with the big boys.  I think if they can fight off the opening emotions that can come from playing in your first Brier, these guys can put together a very successful week.  They did beat favorite John Epping in the Ontario final and are looking to make a name for themselves this week in Calgary.  Also, Curling Geek will be covering all their games.

Team New Brunswick (Mallais) - The second all-rookie team in the field, Jeremy Mallais and his team from the Thistle-St. Andrew's will be heavy underdogs all week.  But I don't think they mind that role.  They entered the NB provincial tankard as underdogs and wound up beating favorite and previous champ James Grattan in the final.  They do not have a ton of experience facing off against this quality of a field and on arena ice but if they can put the nerves to the side and figure out the ice, they could surprise a few teams.  The big goal for Mallais and the boys will be to avoid the dreaded last place finish and relegation for next year's Brier.

Team Northwest Territories (J. Koe) - #PolarPower hits Calgary!  Jamie Koe and his team from Yellowknife return to make another run at the playoffs.  This will be Koe's 9th Brier appearance and 7th in a row.  He is also the first representative to sport the Northwest Territories name.  Team NWT received automatic entry in the field based on the performances of Koe in the past few years (including the 2012 Brier where he finished with a 7-4 record and finished 4th).  2012 will always be remembered for the infamous Koe vs Koe page playoff game where Kevin beat his brother.  These two will resume the brotherly love on Wednesday night.  Worth noting, 2015 is the first time all Koe siblings won their provincial/territorial championships.  Kevin winning Alberta, Jamie winning NWT and sister Kerry (Galusha) winning the NWT Scotties appearance.  The Koe family is one of the most successful curling families....and also huge crowd favorites.  Expect to see lots of #PolarPower support this week. 

Projected Final Standings

Team Alberta (K. Koe)  10 - 1
Team Northern Ontario (Jacobs)  10 - 1
Team Newfoundland & Labrador (Gushue)  8 - 3
Team Canada (Morris)  7 - 4
Team Saskatchewan (Laycock)  7 - 4
Team Quebec (Menard)  7 - 4
Team Manitoba (Carruthers)  6 - 5
Team Ontario (Kean)  3 - 8
Team British Columbia (Cotter)  3 - 8
Team Northwest Territories (J. Koe)  2 - 9
Team Prince Edward Island (Casey)  2 - 9
Team New Brunswick (Mallais)  1 - 10

Tiebreakers

Saskatchewan over Canada & Quebec


Page Playoffs

1 vs 2:  Northern Ontario over Alberta
3 vs 4:  Newfoundland & Labrador over Saskatchewan

Semi-final:  Newfoundland & Labrador over Alberta

TIM HORTONS BRIER CHAMPIONSHIP:  Newfoundland & Labrador (Gushue) over Northern Ontario (Jacobs) - I fully expect the Olympic Champions to find themselves playing on Sunday evening.  The Jacobs team is just too strong and focused on getting back that Team Canada jacket.  I suppose, in all fairness, they never really lost the Team Canada jacket.  They won the Brier in 2013 and won the Roar of the Rings months later to win the Olympic Team Canada jacket.  These boys have been reppin' the maple leaf for 2 years now.  The problem is they will meet another guy who is familiar with wearing the Olympic Team Canada jacket and also has an Olympic gold medal: Brad Gushue.  The difference now is Gushue has yet to finish off the stellar resume with a Brier win.  This is his year!  Mark Nichols rejoined this team for this exact reason, to win a Brier with Brad and for The Rock.  Gushue is due for this to happen, coming oh so close a few times in the past.  His team is firing on all cylinders right now.  This would be a first for the Brier: Olympic Champ vs Olympic Champ.  I think 2006 might just prevail in a history repeating lesson.  It is Team Gushue's time to step up.  Oh boy, will the Rock be celebrating hard on Sunday....and probably into Monday.  Might want to get the number for Premier Paul Davis on standby now because, if I am correct in this prediction, Monday March 9 may just need to be a provincial holiday.

It is going to be a tough field and I could easily be 100% incorrect on every prediction...and that would not surprise me.  This is a strong field and there will be no easy games.  I am looking forward to being a part of the action in Calgary starting mid-week.  I am sad to miss the opening draws but still feel very blessed to be attending.  Look for the #TwineTime blog to make its presence known though next week.  And hey, if you happen to be in Calgary, hit me up on here or twitter and say hello.  Let's meet in the Patch shall we?  Drinks on you though, ok?  :)