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CurlingHoward, Koe renew Brier's Ontario-Alberta rivalry

Posted: Friday, March 2, 2012 | 09:57 AM

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Alberta skip Kevin Koe is looking to win his second Brier title in three years. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press) Alberta skip Kevin Koe is looking to win his second Brier title in three years. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

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A familiar storyline unfolds as the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier gets underway in Saskatoon this weekend: Ontario vs. Alberta.

Ontario skip Glenn Howard, the 2007 Brier and world champion, and his rink are once again one of the two favourites to capture this year's Canadian men's curling championship. The other front-runner is the Alberta team skipped by Kevin Koe, who's looking to win his second Brier title in three years.
A familiar storyline unfolds as the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier gets underway in Saskatoon this weekend: Ontario vs. Alberta.

The favourites

Ontario skip Glenn Howard, the 2007 Brier and world champion, and his rink are once again one of the two favourites to capture this year's Canadian men's curling championship.

Howard, second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill have played in five of the last six Brier finals, with only one win to show for their efforts. New third Wayne Middaugh hopes to boost the fortunes of this team and turn the bridesmaids back into the brides at long last. A former world champion skip himself, Middaugh has the skill and experience to step right into the fray and be a difference-maker this year.

The other favourite to capture the title is Alberta, though instead of four-time champion skip Kevin Martin at the helm it's Kevin Koe looking to win his second Brier in three years. Koe's team, which defeated Howard in the 2010 final, also has a new third in ex-skip Pat Simmons, who has represented Saskatchewan several times over the past few years. Pat also brings a ton of experience to the table and has fit in nicely with the Koe team this season.

Another Alberta-Ontario final would shock no one, as these two teams have been performing head and shoulders above the rest of the field over the past few seasons.

Playoff contenders

Four other teams can (and will) fight for the remaining playoff spots. From east to west, they are:

Newfoundland and Labrador (Brad Gushue): The 2006 Olympic champion has a new front end and Ryan Fry has moved up to play third this season. They've had an up-and-down year, with some brilliant weeks on the World Curling Tour combined with some poor performances. Brad's experience will serve him well, but his front end will need to perform to get into the playoffs.

Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs): This team has a similar story to Gushue's in the sense that they've also had some up-and-down performances this season. This team finished third in 2010 and looks to improve on that performance this year. Consistency will be the key to their success, as they are excellent front-runners but have shown some inability to play patiently and consistently, occasionally falling to teams they should beat. They can't afford to cough up games against some of the less experienced team this week.

Manitoba (Rob Fowler): Most expected Jeff Stoughton or Mike McEwen to be wearing the bison colours this year, but Fowler's rink defeated both of them en route to win Rob's first Brier berth as a skip. This team has been a regular solid performer on the World Curling Tour for a couple of years now, and they're very solid and capable. They could be the dark horse in this field and will impress many. The key again will be consistency. They must beat the teams they should beat and will be battling with the other playoff contenders in the other matches.

British Columbia (Jim Cotter): Team Cotter has been the best team in B.C. for a number of years now, and they've showed signs of getting hot at the right time. They had a semifinal appearance at the most recent Grand Slam event in late January and are coming into this Brier with great confidence. Consistency has been a challenge over the past few years for this rink, but at their best they're playoff contenders.

The rest

The remainder of the field will really have to play over their heads to capture a playoff spot, but will provide some tough competition for the top 6:

Quebec (Robert Desjardins): Play consistently on the World Curling Tour and will win their share of games.

Saskatchewan (Scott Manners): Hometown team will have tons of support in Saskatoon, but are in tough.

Northwest Territories/Yukon (Jamie Koe): This team has a lot of Brier experience and will win their share of games. Can upset some of the top teams if playing well.

New Brunswick (Terry Odishaw): Another team with a lot of Brier experience, but will need to be at their best or it will be a long week.

Prince Edward Island (Mike Gaudet): Relatively inexperienced team that will be near the bottom of the pack; looking to gain much-needed experience at this Brier.

Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy): Very inexperienced team will be in tough; this Brier should be a good learning experience for them.

Predictions

Champion: Ontario
Runner-up: Manitoba
Bronze: Alberta
Fourth: Newfoundland

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