2018 Tim Hortons Brier in Regina: A Celebration of Curling
Regina was buzzing from March 3 to 11 as 2018 Tim Hortons Brier lit up Regina’s Brandt Centre. It was the 89th edition of this quintessentially Canadian sporting event, and the fifth time Regina hosted it.
This year featured a new format with 16 curling teams from every province and territory and, for the first time, a wild card team. Mike McEwan from Winnipeg won the wild card game in an exciting extra end on March 2. That was a bonus day of free entertainment, beginning with the Ford Hot Shots. Northern Ontario made a perfect “around the horn” triple, winning the Hot Shots and $15,000.
The next day’s opening ceremony featured Saskatchewan curling luminaries. Sandra Schmirler’s daughter, Sara England, threw the first rock, with Jan Betker holding the broom and Joan McCusker and Marcie Gudereit sweeping. Sara’s mom would have been proud as the rock landed right on the button. It was a touching tribute to the 1998 Olympic gold medal team. The great Ernie Richardson, who skipped his family team to four Brier wins, was another of the curling superstars in attendance.
Since the Brier began in 1927, Saskatchewan has won the tankard seven times, but the last win was in 1980 with Rick Folk skipping. Saskatchewan’s current skip, Steve Laycock, wasn’t even born then! After 38 years, there was definitely pressure to win. Although the team played well, they ended out of the medals. But it was good to see Moose Jaw’s Pat Simmons back wearing green as our men’s coach. It seemed a bit ironic, however, to see Regina-native Braeden Moskowy playing third for Manitoba against Saskatchewan, while Manitoba resident Matt Dunstone threw fourth rocks for Saskatchewan! It was fun to watch 22-year-old Matt loudly slap his cloth broom — that was older than him — onto the ice before throwing his stones.
So much of the allure of the Brier is curling’s nostalgic place in Canadian culture. Brier goers appreciate the heritage and the opportunity to bump into curling greats. I spoke with Kevin Martin, four-time Brier champ, who was in town watching his son Karrick play lead on the Alberta team. Kevin compared the Brier to the Grey Cup, saying that more than just sporting events, they are cultural events with considerable fan involvement.
John Epping, skip of Team Ontario told me: “It’s very special, with everything the Brier brings. II remember watching my first Brier and it was 1992, and that was when Vic Peters won. I still remember watching that as a kid, and you know you have the dream to come here and just now fulfilling that is pretty special.” That 1992 Brier was held in Regina.
Rick Lang won three Briers, and currently serves as Curling Canada’s men's coach. Rick said about the Brier: “So much history and tradition. It is extremely tough to get here as a player, still. You never know when it’s going to be your last time. From the first Brier I went to, I saved every piece of memorabilia.”
Curling fans cherish their souvenirs and they love to socialize, especially in the famous (or infamous) Patch. The 2018 Brier Patch was located in the International Trade Centre at Evraz Place and huge. As Matt Dunstone said during an “Up Close and Personal” interview, “You can’t even see the other end of the Patch.” When the MC suggested: “You need a bus transfer to get to the other end,” Matt replied: “Or a taxi.” Up Close and Personal sessions were great opportunities to get to know the curlers. I learned that Northern Ontario’s Ryan Fry has a dog called “Kevin.” Unfortunately, Ryan wouldn’t admit if it was named after Kevin Martin or Kevin Koe!
I also learned that Steve Laycock started curling around grade four on a family team in Saltcoats. Steve said, “I’d throw my two shots and then go inside to sit in the bleachers because it was too cold, and since then I still don’t sweep!” Matt Dunstone claimed: “As far as I’m concerned, Saskatchewan has the best curling fans in the world.” I heard similar comments again and again.
John Epping told me: “There are always great crowds. You can tell Saskatchewan loves their curling. The warmness of the crowd, very knowledgeable crowd; it’s just a very good feel from everybody and also, I have a lot of family out here.” John’s grandfather was originally from Saskatchewan. John hoped a bunch of his cousins could come to his games, but the weather and the roads had to clear first.
March 5 brought a blizzard to Regina with slippery roads and towering snowdrifts, and still the crowd did not disappoint. Five women in bright yellow MacIntosh hats cheered for Nova Scotia and a lady wearing a green wide-brimmed hat with flashing lights supported Saskatchewan. There was plenty to cheer about all week with amazing shot making. James Grattan, skip of New Brunswick, was playing in his twelfth Brier, but this may be his most memorable since his team scored a seven-ender against B.C.!
Finally, the last day of the Brier arrived. Sportscaster Warren Woods announced to the media that Ben Hebert got the last beer out of the Patch. (Not sure if Ben had okayed that declaration.) A beloved curling tradition was over for another season but, in the meantime, there was a championship game to watch.
In the stands the “Gushue Girls” were all geared up in their blazing pink t-shirts to cheer for their guys. Alberta had upset Ontario that afternoon to get into the final game against Team Canada. The curlers were announced to huge applause. Brad Gushue’s intense competitiveness was obvious as he unabashedly watched Alberta warm up. Team Alberta, skipped by 26-year-old Brendan Bottcher, was the only team to beat Brad during the round robin. Yet, Team Canada had the edge being the reigning world champions and having significantly more experience than the young Albertans.
Alberta forced Brad to draw to the button with his last rock for the win. Brad and his team of Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker won the Brier Tankard, $62,000 and a spot at the 2018 World Championships. It was the culmination of an incredible week in which Brad played 92 per cent and broke the record for most career Brier wins by a skip.
After the medal presentation Brad Gushue confirmed: “Breaking the record was a special moment. Winning back to backs is a special moment.” And Mark Nichols agreed: “Two in row is unbelievable. There aren’t many teams that are able to say that.” Brad and Mark also congratulated Regina on an excellent Brier. Mark said: “You’re in the heart of curling country here. The fans are so knowledgeable. We knew it was going to be a great Brier and the stands were full. It’s a great event with the volunteers and the fans, with the appreciation felt around the city. Regina did an unbelievable job.” The 2018 Tim Hortons Brier will be one they’ll talk about for years to come.
Final Standings of Top 8 of 16 Teams
Canada Brad Gushue
Alberta Brendan Bottcher
Ontario John Epping
Northern Ontario Brad Jacobs
Wildcard Mike McEwen
Saskatchewan Steve Laycock
Nova Scotia Jamie Murphy
Manitoba Reid Carruthers
All-Stars (determined by shooting percentages during the round robin)
Skip Brad Gushue, Team Canada (92%)
Third Mark Nichols, Team Canada (89%)
Second Brett Gallant, Team Canada (92%)
Lead Denni Neufeld, Team Wild Card (92%)
Skip John Epping, Ontario (86%)
Third Steve Laycock, Saskatchewan (86%)
Second E.J. Harnden, Northern Ontario (87%)
Lead Geoff Walker, Team Canada (92%)
By Donna Boyle Photos courtesy Curling Canada/Michael Burns