Opening draws in Tim Hortons 2010 Brier about to get underway in Halifax
It took an Olympic gold medal and regional upset to change what seemed to be the natural order of things at this year's Canadian men's curling championship.
HALIFAX, N.S. - It took an Olympic gold medal and regional upset to change what seemed to be the natural order of things at this year's Canadian men's curling championship.
For the first time in 11 years, Alberta is sending a rink skipped by someone other than Kevin Martin or Randy Ferbey to the Tim Hortons Brier. This year's event begins Saturday in Halifax, the sixth time the city has hosted the national event.
Martin, a four-time Brier winner, took the Olympic route this year and led Canada to gold by downing Norway at the Vancouver Games.
He is only making a guest appearance ad this year's event, along with third John Morris, second Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert.
They'll sign autographs and participate in a question-and-answer session with fans Saturday.
The job of representing Alberta on the ice has fallen to Edmonton's Kevin Koe, who beat Ferbey's rink 7-5 in their provincial showdown earlier this year.
Koe says he's ready for his Brier debut.
"We're fortunate in that even though we've never been there, we're used to playing a lot of these top teams in big events," he said. "We're a good hitting team and we can use that to our advantage to get out of trouble or especially if we can get up, we're pretty good at keeping it fairly clean."
It might be a different story, though, on the sixth day of the round robin. That's when Koe meets his younger brother Jamie, who is the skip of the Northwest Territories/Yukon crew, in curling's latest version of a family feud.
"We're pretty close and we support each other, but I'm sure we want to beat each other for sure," Jamie Koe said, acknowledging his parents may be the most conflicted fans at this year's event.
"They're probably going to pull for a real close game right down to the wire. As long as there's a Koe on the ice come Sunday."
It's only the third time in Brier history that two brothers have faced each other as skips.
In 1942, Donald Campbell of British Columbia competed against Gord Campbell of Ontario in Quebec City. Then, last year, Russ and Glenn Howard battled in Calgary.
Several decorated veterans will take to the ice at the Metro Centre this year in an attempt to win Canadian curling's biggest prize.
Newfoundland and Labrador's Brad Gushue, who won Olympic gold in 2006 in Turin, will make his seventh Brier appearance still seeking that elusive first title.
"We have pretty high expectations going into this week," he said. "Other than the Olympic pre-trials, we're playing well.
"We've been making the clutch shots and we're pretty confident and hoping for good things."
Gushue's bid to return to the Olympic podium was cut short by Martin, who went on to win gold in Vancouver with a perfect 11-0 record.
Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont., the 2007 Canadian and world champion, will make his 12th Brier appearance.
Winnipeg's Jeff Stoughton, a two-time Brier winner and 1996 world champion, will once again represent Manitoba, which has won a leading 26 Canadian titles.
The host province, Nova Scotia, will be skipped by Ian Fitzner-LeBlanc of Halifax. The former provincial junior champion will make his Brier debut.
Completing the field are British Columbia's Jeff Richard; New Brunswick's James Grattan; Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs; Quebec's Serge Reid; Prince Edward Island's Rod MacDonald; and Saskatchewan's Darrell McKee.
The winner of this year's Brier will represent Canada at the Capital One world men's curling championship in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy, from April 3-11.
The semifinal is scheduled for March 13 with the final slated for March 14 at 7 p.m. ET.