The question I've been asked the most over the past few weeks: When are we going to hear announcements about men's team changes for next season?
Answer: Just wait until after the Brier.
Well, the Brier is over now, so let the silly season begin. While we’ve seen the free-agent frenzy hit the women’s division hard once the Scotties Tournament of Hearts concluded, it’s time for round two as the flood takes over on the men’s side now that Brad Gushue has captured the Brier once again.
One major domino already fell with Team Koe third Marc Kennedy announcing he’s taking a break after this season. The rest of Team Koe haven’t announced their plans yet and should they return together it’s not going to be easy to find a successor for Kennedy.
The rumour mill should start churning soon and expect to hear a lot of chatter later this week during the Princess Auto Elite 10.
1st End: Back-to-back for Brad Gushue
It took Gushue 14 attempts to win his first Brier championship. Luckily for Gushue, he didn’t have to wait as long to claim his second. Gushue’s crew from St. John’s, N.L., retained the maple leaf with a 6-4 victory over Brendan Bottcher’s Team Alberta in Sunday’s final in Regina.
Gushue was at the head of the class all week nearly running the table with a 12-1 record. His lone loss came against Bottcher, coincidentally, during round-robin play. Even then, it wasn’t a cakewalk as Gushue needed to throw his last rock during the championship game and land on the button. He made it, of course, because he’s Brad Gushue.
It was definitely less stressful for Gushue this time around not only having one Brier trophy in the case but also not playing in front of his hometown crowd and having all of that pressure weighing him down. The skip said he was hoping it would allow them to play more like he knows they’re capable of playing and it worked out.
Gushue delivered when it mattered most in the playoffs throwing 96 percent in the championship game and an outstanding 100 percent in the Page 1-2 playoff match versus Ontario’s John Epping.
2nd End: Bottcher breaks expectations
From the second worst Alberta record to the second best.
Bottcher had a lot to build off of from his Brier debut a year ago finishing with a disappointing 3-8 round-robin result. The 26-year-old from Edmonton flipped the script around, quite literally, going 8-3 to finish third and qualify for the Page playoffs.
An extra-end steal over Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs boosted Bottcher into the semifinal where he defeated Epping to secure a spot in the championship game. Although Bottcher threw a not-too-shabby 93 percent in the final, Gushue was just a tad sharper.
3rd End: Epping making up for lost time
Epping had waited over a decade to make his Brier debut and didn’t disappoint. The 34-year-old from Toronto picked up the bronze medal in his first Canadian men’s championship.
After losing to Jacobs in the opening draw, Epping rattled off nine consecutive victories until running into Gushue and his hot run cooled down against the eventual champ. Epping finished off round-robin play with a loss to Gushue and again in the rematch during the Page 1-2 playoff. It was a quick turnaround from Saturday evening to Sunday afternoon for the semifinal and Bottcher got the better of Epping there as well.
This is a case of it’s not the destination but the journey as despite the three-game skid to finish, Epping had a remarkable run just to get into the Brier finally and finish on the podium.
4th End: Northern Ontario, wildcard teams not at 100 percent
Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs is a perennial playoff contender at the Brier but had to preserve this time around with lead Ryan Harnden battling flu-like symptoms that also required a trip to a hospital. Jacobs managed to make it into the playoff round once more despite the setback although the team came up just short of the podium.
Mike McEwen was still feeling the effects of his bout with chickenpox that kept him in a hospital for most of the Manitoba playdowns. McEwen escaped with the win over fellow Winnipeg skip Jason Gunnlaugson for the wildcard berth and was on a wild roll in round-robin play. Things fell apart during the championship round though and last year’s bronze medallist missed the Page playoffs.
5th End: Brier, Tournament of Hearts experiencing identity crisis?
Gushue hates it. Jacobs like it. Depending on which end of the Brad spectrum you find yourself, the new Brier pool format hasn’t won over everyone.
The root issue is trying to find out what the national championships are trying to be: all-encompassing with every province and territory represented or include some of the best teams in the nation regardless of where they’re from?
Having the defending champion return as Team Canada and a top tour team in the wildcard leans towards the latter but the 16-squad tournament is too large to accommodate a full round-robin and require pools. You could argue winless Nunavut isn’t quite ready for its own Brier spot with an overall points for/against of minus-52 but at the same time having that berth, in theory, should encourage growth for the sport in the territory.
It’s quite the catch-22 and one thing organizers need to figure out if they opt to make any further alterations to the Tim Hortons Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts formats.
6th End: Sinclair, Persinger win U.S. titles
Meanwhile south of the border, Jamie Sinclair and Greg Persinger were victorious at the U.S. national championships in Fargo, N.D.
Sinclair pulled a Gushue and successfully defended the women’s title with a 6-5 victory over Cory Christensen in Saturday’s final. Team Sinclair finished the tournament undefeated at 8-0 and now heads to North Bay, Ont., for the world women’s championship beginning Saturday.
Persinger, who throws fourth with skip Rich Ruohonen at third, beat Heath McCormick 7-5 on the men’s side and will represent the host nation at the world men’s championship next month in Las Vegas.
Both Team Sinclair and Team Persinger have qualified for the season-ending Humpty’s Champions Cup running April 24-29 at Calgary’s WinSport Arena.
7th End: Canada cleans up at world juniors
It was a Canadian sweep at the world junior championships in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Kaitlyn Jones skipped the women’s squad from Nova Scotia to gold following a 7-4 victory over defending champion Isabella Wrana of Sweden while Tyler Tardi’s junior men’s team from B.C. edged out Scotland’s Ross Whyte 6-5 in an extra end Saturday. It’s a record 19th time Canada has captured the junior men’s gold and 12th in junior women’s play.
Jones and Tardi also earned invitations to the Humpty’s Champions Cup.
8th End: Elite 10 only days away
The Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season resumes with the Princess Auto Elite 10 beginning Thursday at Winnipeg’s St. James Civic Centre.
Gushue, Epping, Jacobs and McEwen are among the 10 men’s teams set to compete in the tournament with unique match play rules where winning the most ends per game determines the victor similar to skins game. It’ll also be the first event for John Shuster since capturing the Olympic gold medal last month.