With less than two months before the start of the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier at London’s John Labatt Centre, provincial curling championships are getting underway across the land. As the nation’s best curlers take to the ice in pursuit of their pre-paid ticket to the Brier and the right to wear the Purple Heart – the game’s most coveted personal adornment – this column will attempt to guide the armchair enthusiast in their ongoing quest.
A participant’s route to London and the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier may be long and arduous or a relatively simple, straight forward competitive process, depending upon where you live in Canada. Provincial associations have implemented various systems of competition to declare their respective Brier representatives. Over the coming weeks there will be references to zone and regional playdowns, challenge rounds, double and triple knockout formats, and page playoff berths which should inevitably lead to twelve provincial champion teams. To make it a little easier to understand, we’re providing a user-friendly guide to deciphering the who, what, where and when’s of the provincial playdowns as they play out across this curling crazed country.
In an attempt to make the columns a more manageable informational guide, they will be presented under three distinct headings. Updates for the provinces of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Newfoundland will be referenced under the Maritimes moniker. The Central Region heading will include provincial proceedings for Ontario, Quebec, Northern Ontario and Manitoba, while the Wild West Region will update Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Territories.
Prince Edward Island
The Silver Fox Curling and Yacht Club in Summerside Prince Edward Island will play host to the Labatt Tankard Men’s Curling Championship in Canada’s smallest province, from February 3-7.
Two time defending champ Rod MacDonald and his Charlottetown Curling Club team of Kevin Champion, Andrew Robinson and Mark O’Rourke will be on hand along with fourteen other rinks vying for the right to make the trip to London in March. Club mates Peter Gallant, Robert Campbell and John Likely all have Brier experience and would like nothing better than to lead their teams to this year’s provincial title. Campbell, with eight Purple Hearts on his sleeve, came close last year, losing the final to MacDonald by the score of 5-4.
Six teams will play a round-robin schedule starting February 1 at St. John’s Re/Max Centre to determine the provincial champions for Newfoundland & Labrador. After the round-robin, the first place team will get a bye to the final, while the second and third place teams do battle to determine the other finalist. If the team finishing in first place has an unblemished record after the round-robin, then they must be beaten twice by the victorious semi-finalists.
Brad Gushue and his rink of Mark Nichols, Ryan Fry and Jamie Danbrook would be considered the overwhelming favourites to make the trip East to London in March. Old lions Glenn Goss, Mark Noseworthy and Toby MacDonald all seem to be more focused on chasing Senior title glory, and won’t be part of the men’s provincial finals.
Nova Scotia provincial playdowns will get underway with North and South Zone competitions held over the weekend of January 13-16. Zone play, held this year at the Highlander Curling Club in St. Andrew’s and the Shelburne Curling Club, will feature a triple knockout format with a combined total of fourteen teams advancing directly from this stage to the provincial final .
The reigning championship team of Ian Fitzner-Leblanc, along with rinks led by Bruce Lohnes, Jamie Murphy and Jamie Christianson should be among the number advancing from the North, while Shaun Adams, Doug Mackenzie, and Mark Kehoe should have little trouble surviving play in the South. Teams not making the cut after zone play, will get a second chance at advancement through the Challenge Round competition which will be held from January 21-23 at the Greenwood Curling Club. Two teams will advance through this competition to round out the sixteen team field for the provincial final. The Dartmouth Curling Club will host the modified triple knockout finale from February 1 – 6. Four teams will advance to the page playoffs and battle until there is but one team standing. One month later, that team will be the primary focus of all the “Bluenose” supporters in the stands at London’s John Labatt Centre.
The 2011 New Brunswick provincial champions will be crowned at the Miramichi Curling Club on Sunday, February 6 at the completion of the Molson Canadian Men’s Provincial Final 8.
The eight teams involved will have played a round-robin competition in advance of a three team playoff format. The eight teams earn the right to compete in the finals by advancing through either the Molson Canadian Men’s Provincial Preliminary competition or the Molson Canadian Men’s Provincial Wildcard playdowns. Oromocto’s Gage Golf & Curling Club plays host to the former over the weekend of January 7-9, while the wildcard challenge will be contested at Moncton’s Curling Beausejour Inc. from January 21-23. James Grattan and his Gage Curling Club squad would love to make a return trip to the national showcase, if only to prove that last year’s 3-8 record at the Halifax Brier was a fluke.