A win for the champs!

Brendan Bottcher, skip of Team Canada, takes aim during his Friday night win at the Tim Hortons Brier. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Team Canada opens Tim Hortons Brier title defence on winning note

The surprising in-season switch of vice-skips didn’t hamper Brendan Bottcher and Team Canada, which opened defence of their Tim Hortons championship, presented by AGI, Friday evening with a tough 5-4 win over Glenn Howard and Team Ontario.

Bottcher, new third Pat Janssen, second Brad Thiessen, lead Karrick Martin, alternate Aaron Sluchinski and coach Don Bartlett (1-0, Edmonton) were playing their first competitive game since parting ways with third Darren Moulding last November.

“As a four-person squad, zero,” Bottcher replied when asked how much his Edmonton-based team has played since Janssen joined them as the regular third. “I’ve played a few mixed doubles games along the way but we’ve been practising hard and there’s a handful of teams out there in the same boat. No one really did a lot of curling in the last three months … we’ve made the best (of it) we could.”

After the event at the ENMAX Centre in Lethbridge, Alta., began with the playing of the Ukrainian and Canadian national anthems, Team Canada scored two in the third end, stole one in the fifth and didn’t score again until getting two in the tenth for the win.

Playing in Team Ontario’s 1,000th Tim Hortons Brier game, 59-year-old Howard (0-1, Penetanguishene), backed by third Scott Howard, second David Mathers, lead Tim March and alternate Adam Spencer gave up the deuce in three after a runback double failed to get either Bottcher stones out of the house.

Ontario scored two in the sixth and stole one in the ninth to take a 4-3 edge into the final end. Bottcher didn’t have to throw his final stone in the tenth after Howard’s final stone slid inches too far and left Team Canada with the winning points.

“That was a really good game, it was a tough one, both teams played well so it’s good to grind one out early,” said Janssen. “It feels great. We’ve worked hard the last month and a half together. I’ve been out to Edmonton three times and we’ve practised hard.”

Janssen, a 34-year-old Oshawa, Ont., native had been Bottcher’s alternate at the last two Canadian championships. He was a member of the John Epping team that won bronze at the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier.

“Pat’s great, I thought he had an outstanding game,” Bottcher said. “He’s been working hard so it’s not surprising he came out sharp tonight. Definitely good to see it.”

Newfoundland/Labrador skip Nathan Young had a successful Tim Hortons Brier debut on Friday. (Photo, Curling Canada/Michael Burns)

Bottcher’s expecting to be around for next weekend’s playoffs but admitted “it’s going to take a lot of hard work by the guys. I think we’ve proven we can grind though the week and that’s what it takes to win this thing, you have to stick around and then you have to get hot at the end. If you’re going to stick around you have to find a way to win the close games and that was certainly a game that could have gone either way.”

Moulding recently joined James Grattan and his Team New Brunswick (0-1, Oromocto), which began its Tim Hortons Brier Friday evening with a final-end 7-6 loss to Matt Dunstone and Wild Card #2 (1-0, Regina).

Four-time Canadian champion Kevin Koe (1-0, Calgary) needed a last-rock Koe special, an angled runback, tapback to score one in the 11th end to beat Saskatchewan’s Colton Flasch (0-1, Saskatoon) 9-8. Nathan Young and Team Newfoundland/Labrador (1-0, St John’s), who lost in the final of the 2021 New Holland world junior qualifier event in November, got by Thomas Scoffin and Team Yukon (0-1, Whitehorse) 7-5.

Koe had an uncharacteristic off night. He was off on both his draws in the fourth end to give up two and was heavy with his final stone in five, setting up a runback double by Flasch to steal two for a 6-3 edge. Struggling with his draw weight, he elected to try the more difficult angled runback rather than trying to draw the button.

“I struggled personally,” said Koe, who shot 74 per cent. “I missed as many draws in that game that I’ve missed all year. No excuses. The ice was fine. It was our first game in two months, maybe. The guys played good. I just missed too many myself.”

There are 18 teams in this year’s competition, split into two pools of nine that will play a complete eight-game round robin. The top three teams in each pool advance to the playoffs, with the two pool winners getting a bye in the first round of the Page playoff system.

The final goes Sunday, March 13.

The 2022 Tim Hortons Brier continues with draws Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. (all times MT).

Live scoring, standings and statistics for the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier are available at curling.ca/scoreboard.

TSN and RDS2 (streamed on ESPN3 in the United States) will provide complete coverage of the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier. CLICK HERE for the complete schedule.

For ticket information for the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier, go to www.curling.ca/2022brier/tickets/

This story will be available in French as soon as possible at www.curling.ca/2022brier/nouvelles/?lang=fr