All 14 teams that will travel to Calgary for the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by SecurTek Monitoring Solutions, have now been determined.
The field was finalized on Tuesday with the completion of the Prince Edward Island championship, which followed a cross-country bonanza of provincial/territorial finals on Sunday to decided the teams that will take to the ice at the Scotiabank Saddledome to decide the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship.
And the game that should already be leaping out at everyone will take place on Tuesday night, March 3, at 6:30 p.m. (all times Mountain) when the first Battle of Alberta in Tim Hortons Brier history takes place, featuring two teams that not only hail from the same city — the host city of Calgary — but also the same club, the Glencoe Club.
And adding to the intrigue is that newly crowned Alberta champion Kevin Koe will be playing three-quarters of the team that he skipped to victory at the 2014 Tim Hortons Brier in Kamloops, B.C. Koe formed a new team in the off-season, while his former third Pat Simmons, second Carter Rycroft and lead Nolan Thiessen, recruited John Morris to skip them as the first Team Canada entry in Tim Hortons Brier history.
Koe, meanwhile, won his fourth Alberta title on Sunday in Wainwright, beating former world junior champion Brendan Bottcher in the final, and will bring an experienced team with him to Calgary, with vice-skip Brent Laing (throwing second rocks), second Marc Kennedy (throwing third rocks) and lead Ben Hebert all former Brier and world champions.
But the two Alberta squads will hardly corner the market on experience at the Tim Hortons Brier.
Brad Jacobs, the reigning Olympic gold-medallist, will look to capture his second Tim Hortons Brier title after winning the Northern Ontario championship on Sunday, beating two-time world champ Al Hackner in the final. The Jacobs lineup includes third Ryan Fry, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden.
Meanwhile, 2006 Olympic champion Brad Gushue captured his 12th Newfoundland/Labrador title on Saturday in Labrador city, and will bring Mark Nichols (a bronze-medallist playing with Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton in 2014), second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker with him to Calgary.
Former Brier champ (2006) Jean-Michel Ménard earned his eighth Purple Heart out of Quebec and will be backed up by the same team he had in Kamloops last year — third Martin Crête, second Eric Sylvain and lead Philippe Ménard.
Last year’s Tim Hortons Brier runner-up Jim Cotter (who had Morris calling the shots last season) claimed his fifth British Columbia championship on Sunday. Third Ryan Kuhn is the newcomer to the team, joining veteran front-enders Tyrel Griffith and Rick Sawatsky.
Another veteran, Yellowknife’s Jamie Koe, claimed his seventh straight Northwest Territories title, and his ninth overall. His team is rounded out by third Mark Whitehead, second Brad Chorostkowski and lead Robert Borden.
And Saskatchewan also will send a veteran squad, as Steve Laycock defended his provincial title and earned his fifth Brier Purple Heart in the process. His team includes third Kirk Muyres, second Colton Flasch and lead Dallan Muyres.
Whitehorse’s Bob Smallwood will make his third trip to the Tim Hortons Brier, and his first in Yukon colours, after winning the NWT/Yukon title in 1994 and 1995. His team includes third Wade Scoffin (who’s played in two Briers), second Steve Fecteau and lead Clint Ireland (who played in the 2008 Brier).
Meanwhile, there will be rookie skips representing Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick at the Tim Hortons Brier.
Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers, though, is only a rookie at skipping at the Tim Hortons Brier as he played second for Jeff Stoughton in 2011, winning gold at that year’s Tim Horton Brier along with the Ford World Men’s Championship in Regina, in addition to playing for Team Stoughton at the 2013 (losing the final to Jacobs) and 2014 Briers. His team — third Braeden Moskowy, second Derek Samalgaski and lead Colin Hodgson — knocked off Mike McEwen on Sunday in the Manitoba final.
Like Carruthers, newly crowned Prince Edward Island champion Adam Casey also has previous Brier experience, albeit none as a skip. Casey threw second stones for Gushue’s Newfoundland/Labrador team at the past three Tim Hortons Briers. His team is rounded out by third Josh Barry, second Anson Carmody and lead Robbie Doherty.
Mark Kean, meanwhile, has experience skipping at at the 2013 Road to the Roar Pre-Trials, but with a different team than the one he won the Ontario title with on Sunday — third Mat Camm, second David Mathers and lead Scott Howard (Glenn’s son). Ironically, his Pre-Trials team was taken over by John Epping, whom he beat in the Ontario final on Sunday.
Glen MacLeod won his second Nova Scotia title, but first as a skip, beating defending champ Jamie Murphy in the final. MacLeod, who calls the game and throws third rocks, is backed up by last-rock thrower Peter Burgess, second Colten Steele and lead Robby McLean.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Mallais’ team from Saint John (third Zach Eldridge, second Chris Jeffrey, lead Jared Bezanson) are all first-time New Brunswick champions, ending the lengthy reign of James Grattan.
The Tim Hortons Brier will be preceded for the first time by a a pre-qualifying round to determine the final entry into the 12-team main draw.
Team Canada is joined in the main draw by the 10 teams with the best combined records in the previous three Briers, meaning Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Yukon will play off for the 12th and final berth. Nunavut declined an opportunity to participate.
Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and the Yukon will play a single round-robin at the Scotiabank Saddledome, with the teams with the two best records advancing to the play-in game, which will be contested Saturday, Feb. 28, at 1:30 p.m. (all times Mountain), concurrent with the opening draw of the Tim Hortons Brier round-robin. Admission to the pre-qualifying rounds is free.
The schedule for the pre-qualifying round:
Thursday, Feb. 26
7 p.m. — P.E.I. vs. Yukon
Friday, Feb. 27
8 a.m. — Yukon vs. Nova Scotia
3:30 p.m. — Nova Scotia vs. P.E.I.
Saturday, Feb. 28
1:30 p.m. — Pre-qualifying final
TSN/RDS2, the official broadcast partner of the CCA’s Season of Champions, will provide complete coverage of the Tim Hortons Brier, leading to the gold-medal game on March 8 at 5 p.m.
The winner of the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier will represent Canada at the Ford World Men’s Championship, March 28-April 5 in Halifax, in addition to qualifying for the 2015 Home Hardware Canada Cup in Grande Prairie, Alta., the 2016 World Financial Group Continental Cup in Las Vegas and the 2016 Tim Hortons Brier in Ottawa
For ticket information, go to http://www.curling.ca/2015brier-en/tickets/