Howard, Koe and Gushue head Tim Hortons Brier field

The Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Monsanto, begins Saturday, March 3 at the Credit Union Centre (formerly SaskPlace) in Saskatoon. It’s the 83rd edition of the Canadian Men’s Curling Championship, the sixth time that Saskatoon has hosted the Brier since it began in 1927 in Toronto, the 10th time the province has staged the event and the eighth year of title sponsorship by Tim Hortons. Saskatoon joins Toronto, Calgary and Halifax as the only cities to host the Brier on at least six occasions. The last Brier in Saskatoon was in 2004, when Nova Scotia’s Mark Dacey shocked defending champion Alberta, skipped by Randy Ferbey, counting three in the 10th end for a thrilling 10-9 victory. The last Brier held in Saskatchewan was in 2006 in Regina, when won by Quebec’s Jean-Michel Ménard. TSN (RDS in Quebec) will provide exclusive and comprehensive coverage of the Tim Hortons Brier, televising all morning, afternoon and evening round robin draws, plus the playoffs. The gold medal final is Sunday, March 11 at 6:00 pm local/8:00 pm ET. It’s the 10th consecutive year that the Brier final has been contested in Eastern prime time, starting in 2003 in Halifax.

Glenn Howard at the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier(Photo by: Michael Burns)

Glenn Howard, representing the Coldwater & District Curling Club, will be making a record-tying 14th Brier appearance, equalling his brother Russ Howard. The 49-year-old skip is a three-time Canadian and world champion, having directed his team to victory in 2007 at the Tim Hortons Brier in Hamilton and the Ford World Men’s in Edmonton, as well as playing third for Russ Howard in 1987 and 1993. In addition, Howard has also been the Brier runner-up four times in the last six years. Howard will also be making a Brier record seventh consecutive appearance as skip. His long-time front end of Brent Laing and Craig Savill will be making their eighth Brier appearance. New to the team this year is two-time world champion Wayne Middaugh, who plays third. Middaugh makes his eighth Brier appearance as well. Ontario has nine Brier wins, the last by Howard in 2007. Alberta’s 37-year-old Kevin Koe, now of Calgary, is making just his second Brier appearance, but his first one couldn’t have been better, as he handed Glenn Howard his only defeat of the week, 6-5 in an extra end, to claim the 2010 title in Halifax. His team would then cap off the season with a victory in the Capital One World Men’s in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. New to his team this year, replacing Blake MacDonald at third, is long-time Saskatchewan skip Pat Simmons, joining regulars Carter Rycroft at second and Nolan Thiessen at lead. Alberta has won 25 Briers. Newfoundland/Labrador’s Brad Gushue of St. John’s, who won Olympic gold in 2006 in Turin, Italy, will be making his ninth Brier appearance, but is still seeking his first win. The 2001 world junior champion was the runner-up in 2007 in Hamilton, losing the final to Glenn Howard. The 31-year-old skip will be trying to win just a second Brier title for his province since Jack MacDuff pulled off a shocker in 1976 in Regina. New to his team this year are second Adam Casey and lead Geoff Walker, while Ryan Fry moves to third, replacing Gushue’s long-time third Mark Nichols, who retired. At last year’s Brier in London, Gushue finished the round robin in first place, but lost to eventual winner Jeff Stoughton in the Page 1-2 game, then to Glenn Howard in the semi-final, before winning the inaugural bronze medal game over Kevin Martin. This year’s youngest skip is Northern Ontario’s 26-year-old Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, who is making his third consecutive appearance and fifth overall at the Brier. His team finished an excellent third in 2010 but failed to make the playoffs last year. Completing the field are British Columbia’s Jim Cotter of Vernon, Manitoba’s Rob Fowler of Brandon, New Brunswick’s Terry Odishaw of Moncton, Northwest Territories/Yukon’s Jamie Koe of Yellowknife, Nova Scotia’s Jamie Murphy of Halifax, Prince Edward Island’s Mike Gaudet of Charlottetown, Quebec’s Robert Desjardins of Chicoutimi and Saskatchewan’s Scott Manners of Battleford. Murphy and Manners are Brier rookies. Jamie Koe will once again play his brother Kevin during the round robin (Wednesday morning, Draw 12), as he did in 2010 when losing 8-3. Saskatoon hosted its first Brier in 1946, followed by 1965, 1989 (when it set an attendance record of 151,538), 2000 (when it set another attendance record of 248,793, breaking the former mark of 242,887 by Edmonton in 1999) and 2004, when 238,129 fans attended. The Brier attendance record is now 281,985, established in Edmonton in 2005 at the first Tim Hortons Brier. The Brier has been played in 31 cities across Canada, from Victoria to St. John’s. Manitoba has won a leading 27 Briers, while Alberta is next with 25. Saskatchewan has won seven Briers, the last by Rick Folk in Calgary in 1980. New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Yukon/Northwest Territories have yet to win. The winner will represent Canada at the World Men’s Curling Championship in Basel, Switzerland, March 31-April 8. Since 1980, when the Labatt Brier was held in Calgary and a playoff format was introduced, 21 of 32 Brier winners have gone on to win the World Men’s. The latest was Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton, winner of the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier in London and the Ford World Men’s in Regina. The winning team also earns a berth into the 2012 Capital One Canada Cup in Moose Jaw, SK, the 2013 World Financial Group Continental Cup in Penticton, BC and becomes one of the teams eligible for either the Pre-Trials or the 2013 Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials in Winnipeg, which will determine Canada’s representatives for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Once again, $130,000, representing ‘cresting television exposure value’, will be distributed to the four Page Playoff teams: $40,000 each to the winner and runner-up, $30,000 to the bronze medal team and $20,000 to fourth. The Brier competition involves 12 teams – representing the 10 provinces plus Northern Ontario and Yukon/Northwest Territories – playing a round robin, leading to the Page Playoff system involving the top four teams. The first and second place teams meet in the Page 1 vs 2 game, with the winner advancing to the final while the loser goes to the semi-final. The third and fourth place teams meet in the Page 3 vs 4 game, with the winner advancing to the semi-final. The loser plays in the bronze medal game Sunday morning against the semi-final loser. The always-popular Ford Hot Shots, the pre-event curling skills competition, gets underway Friday, March 2 with the preliminary round from 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm. The playoffs take place Saturday at 11:30 am, following the Opening Ceremonies, which start at 10:00 am. Ford of Canada will provide the winner of the Ford Hot Shots with a two-year lease on a 2012 Ford Focus Titanium, an approximate retail value of $13,000. The second place finisher earns $2,000 while the third place finisher receives $1,000. The first draw of the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier begins at 1:30 pm local/2:30 pm ET on Saturday, March 3. Up-to-the-minute draw results will be available on the Canadian Curling Association website (