Feeling the Heat!

Brendan Bottcher, middle, and teammates Brad Thiessen, left, and Karrick Martin are seeking back-to-back Tim Hortons Brier titles. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Team Bottcher faces stiff challenge in defence of Tim Hortons Brier title

By Dave Komosky

Brendan Bottcher is heading back to the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by AGI, for the fourth time in a row amid a slew of changes.

For one thing, the 30-year-old curler will be heading to Lethbridge with a massive target on his back, which comes with wearing a Team Canada uniform. When you are the skip of the defending Canadian men’s curling championship team, everybody’s out to take you down.

He’s also heading into battle with a new face on his team from the Saville Centre in Edmonton after recently replacing long-time third Darren Moulding with Pat Janssen. Bottcher will be sure to be asked about that eyebrow-raising move during Tim Hortons Brier week.

Brendan Bottcher, below, will be challenged by the likes of Brad Gushue during the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

And, if that weren’t enough, he will have to navigate an 18-team field, enlarged for the second straight year due to the pandemic, as some teams were unable to compete in provincial/territorial championships, by Curling Canada from 16 to accommodate two more quality wild card teams. That just makes his task of defending his title, along with Janssen, second Brad Thiessen and lead Karrick Martin, that much tougher.

But, as he has shown throughout his career, Bottcher is ready for the challenge. To his way of thinking, ‘bring it on’.

“I’m excited to head back to our sixth Brier,” said Bottcher, who finally broke through to win his first Tim Hortons Brier last year in the Calgary ‘bubble’ after losing three straight heartbreaking finals.

“Having the opportunity to wear the Maple Leaf for a home province Brier in Alberta is a dream come true and something that few athletes would have an opportunity to experience. I think we are all excited to get out there.”

The 2022 Tim Hortons Brier gets underway Friday with the first draw at 6:30 p.m. (all times Mountain). You can see the full schedule as well as lineups for the competing teams by CLICKING HERE.

Repeating a championship is not easy. Champions, at times, can become less motivated and lose their focus, commitment and discipline. In short, they lose track of how they got to the top.

But it can be done. Bottcher will no doubt take comfort in the knowledge that Kerri Einarson and her team from Gimli, Man., just won their third consecutive Canadian women’s championship in dominant style just a few weeks ago in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Another big difference this season is the Tim Hortons Brier won’t be dominated by a viral scourge, as it was last year. The COVID-19 pandemic forced everybody inside the ‘bubble’ in Calgary, shutting the door on spectators.

Not so this year. The ENMAX Centre in Lethbridge will welcome fans back as mandates ease and life returns to a semblance of normal.

Which can only help Bottcher, who will likely have a lot of Alberta supporters cheering him on.

“I can’t say enough positive things about having family, friends and supporters back in the stands,” said Bottcher, whose team is rounded out by alternate Aaron Sluchinski and coach Don Bartlett. “Something didn’t feel quite right playing in front of cardboard people, and I am thrilled that we will have that energy and excitement back in the building.”

There will be two Alberta teams in the field hoping to bring home another title to a province already spoiled by 30 Tim Hortons Brier titles. Calgary’s Kevin Koe, who lost 4-2 to Bottcher in last year’s final, is back as Team Alberta, sniffing around for his record fifth national men’s championship as skip.

The 18 teams that participate in the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier include representatives from each of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories, a team from Northern Ontario, the defending champion (Team Canada) and three wild card teams based on the Canadian Team Rankings System (CTRS) as of Feb. 14, 2022. The teams are split into two nine-team pools and play a complete eight-game round-robin. 

Local fans will love the fact both Alberta teams are in the same pool, and will have their head-to-head showdown Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. (all times Mountain)

 The top three teams in each pool advance to the playoffs, and then further reduced to a final four and a Page playoff system.

The Albertans will have to be at the top of their game if they expect to win in Lethbridge. It’s a power-laden field that has assembled for this year’s Tim Hortons Brier, with a number of world-class teams eager to win a trip to the worlds.

High among them will be Brad Gushue’s Wild Card #1 outfit from St. John’s, N.L., fresh off a bronze-medal performance at the recent Beijing Winter Olympics. It remains to be seen how much gas Gushue and his lineup — third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant, lead Geoff Walker and coached by Jules Owchar — have left in the tank, but rest assured, they always come to play.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us to peak,” said Gushue, who will be looking for his fourth Tim Hortons Brier title. “It will be tough, mentally and physically, to be honest. I think the physical part is as big as anything because we are tired. But we’ll grind it out and play our hardest and see what happens. But our expectations won’t be as high as they normally would be.”

But whatever happens in Lethbridge, Gushue and Co. do have an Olympic bronze medal.

“We definitely didn’t play our best (at the Olympics) but to come away with a bronze was still pretty special,” said Gushue, who won gold for Canada at the 2006 Olympic in Turin, Italy.

Other top outfits in the field will be skipped by Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.), Manitoba’s Mike McEwen (West St. Paul, Man.) and Wild Card #2 Matt Dunstone (Regina).   

The final goes Sunday, March 13.

TSN will provide full television coverage of the event.

The first draw of the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier is scheduled for March 4 at 6:30 p.m. (all times MT).