Roaring Game Returns: Brier is back in all of its traditional glory
LETHBRIDGE, Alta. – With every mediocre showing at a major international curling event, the debate is renewed. What should Curling Canada do to ensure the Maple Leaf is on top of the podium?
Critics inevitably turn to what they feel is wrong with the national playdowns, which determine the country’s representatives for the world championships.
Well, the return of the Tim Hortons Brier – in almost all of its normal pre-pandemic glory – is showing that the federation has a glorious piece of sporting Canadiana that perhaps should be left alone and enjoyed.
“You’ve got people from all over the country coming in,” said Wild Card Two skip Matt Dunstone. “The crowd has been rowdy. They’re cheering for and against people and that’s the way sports should be.”
The venue was near capacity for most draws over the opening weekend. The nearby party barn – “The Patch” – has been rocking into the wee hours on a nightly basis.
Capacity restrictions were recently lifted in Alberta, restoring the usual feel of the national men’s curling championship after last year’s spectator-free edition in the Calgary bubble.
The Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts are right up there with Grey Cup week as popular long-running domestic sporting events that have brought together supporters from across the country for decades.
One glance around the Enmax Centre and you’ll see spectators sporting colours and waving flags from all the provincial and territorial entries. It’s a Roaring Game love-in that still has its tradition despite some tinkering in recent years.
“Not only do you get a lot of top teams here, you get the provincial (and territorial) pride,” said Alberta lead Ben Hebert. “And you see a bunch of people here from the Yukon, you see the New Brunswick crew here. It’s cool.
“We don’t get to see those people too often at our (other) events cheering on their (home) teams and that’s what’s unique about the Brier.”
For all the talk that sweeping domestic change at the elite level may be needed to catch up to other countries, Canada has the depth to essentially guarantee quality representation at any competition.
The arguments about the present and future of the Brier and Scotties are just as hotly debated. Every season there seems to be a new adjustment but the event heartbeat stays steady.
So while playoff formats change, wild-card teams are added and pool structures are different, the soul, spirit and energy of the annual competitions remain strong.
The 18-team field always has some minnows, but the six teams that make the playoff cut will likely include the usual suspects.
“There’s a lot of teams here that frankly don’t have a chance to win,” Hebert said. “We’ve got a chance to win. We want to go represent Canada and that’s what gets the juices flowing for me.
“Trying to chase the Maple Leaf and go to the world championship.”
Brad Gushue’s Wild Card One improved to 3-0 with an 8-7 win over Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs (2-1) in Sunday’s late draw. Wild Card Three’s Jason Gunnlaugson (2-1) made it back-to-back victories after taking down Quebec’s Michael Fournier 9-7.
Also in the evening draw, Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming remained undefeated at 2-0 with an 8-4 victory over Nunavut’s Peter Mackey (0-2). Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories (0-3) was kept winless after losing 7-3 to British Columbia’s Brent Pierce (1-2).