It could take Team B.C. 13 matches to reach the Tim Hortons Brier Canadian men’s curling championship final.
Vernon’s Jim Cotter is fine with that math.
“If you told me it will take 14 games to win the Brier, I’ll take that,” said Cotter from his Vernon home as he and teammates Rick Sawatsky and Andrew Nerpin of Kelowna, and Steve Laycock of Saskatoon prepare to represent the province at the Brier beginning March 5 in a bubble environment in Calgary.
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 Cotter rink are the reigning B.C. men’s champions.
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), while the second- and third-place teams will meet in the semifinal earlier that afternoon.
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.
Cotter will throw fourth rocks for B.C. while Laycock will handle the game as skip and throw third stones. Cotter, Laycock and Sawatsky will be appearing in their 10th Briers while Nerpin will be competing in his third Canadian championship.
The team has added former Canadian and World Junior champ Tyler Tardi of Cloverdale as fifth player, and with the busy schedule, he will likely see action.
“We’ve definitely talked about having Tyler step in, he can literally play any position,” said Cotter. “He can come in if someone needs a break or if we need to shake things up. He’s extremely talented at any position.”
Cotter and company will open the Brier Saturday, March 6 against New Brunswick. Cotter’s Pool A also includes former champs Brad Jacobs (Northern Ontario) and Glenn Howard (Wild Card #3), as well as Brendan Bottcher of Alberta, who has lost the last three Brier finals to Brad Gushue (twice) and Kevin Koe.
Between them, Koe of Calgary and Gushue (St. John’s, NL) have captured the past five Canadian men’s curling championships, with Gushue prevailing last year as well as back to back in 2017 and 2018, while Koe claimed gold in 2019 and 2016.
Koe will skip Team Wild Card #2, backed up by third B.J. Neufeld, second John Morris (former Cotter teammate), lead Ben Hebert and alternate Mike Caione, and will be attempting to win his record fifth Tim Hortons Brier as a skip; he currently shares the record with Ernie Richardson, Randy Ferbey and Kevin Martin.
Team Canada’s Gushue, meanwhile, will be looking to join that elite group with a fourth Tim Hortons Brier victory as a skip. Both rinks are in Pool B and face each other in Draw 7 on Sunday, March 7.
Koe beat Cotter in the 2014 Brier final in Cotter’s hometown of Kamloops.