Ontario skip Glenn Howard has reached the final in four of the last five Briers, but he won only one of those.(Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)
This year's Canadian men's curling championship features many of the top teams in the country coming together in London, Ont., but there are three clear favourites who will almost assuredly make it into the playoff rounds.
Here's a breakdown of those teams, plus a look at how the rest of the field
will shake out. The Big 3
Team Alberta, represented by Olympic champion skip Kevin Martin, is looking to bring home the fourth consecutive Brier for the province and the fourth consecutive major title for this team. Having missed last year's Brier after winning the Olympic gold medal, this team is looking to win its third straight Brier after capturing the 2008 and 2009 titles. No reason to bet against them winning the 2011 Brier. They are the favourites.
Team Ontario, represented by 2007 world champion and runner-up in just about everything last year Glenn Howard, is looking to shake the bridesmaid reputation they have developed over the past few years. This team lost the Brier final in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and also lost the final of the Olympic trials last year. This would be heartbreaking to most teams, and it surely will be on their minds if they make the final again. Howard himself has played in a staggering nine Brier finals, winning three along with three world championships. The last time he won the Brier, it was played just down the road in Hamilton, and the world championship was played in Canada. His team is hoping this combination will work well again for them.
Team Manitoba, represented by two-time Brier champion Jeff Stoughton, is having a very solid season on the World Curling Tour, and in my opinion is the one team capable of knocking off either Martin or Howard. Reunited with former third Jon Mead, Stoughton has looked unbeatable at times this season, playing as well as I have ever seen him play. This team is poised for a big breakthrough victory, and the Brier could be the place it happens.Playoff contenders
From east to west, these next few teams are all in a position for a solid run at the playoffs, and any one of them are capable of an upset in the run to the title.
Team Newfoundland and Labrador, skipped by 2006 Olympic champion Brad Gushue, has not had a stellar season after joining forces with Randy Ferbey. The season for Brad begins now, in my opinion, and he is looking for a renewed and refocused performance at the Brier.
Team Nova Scotia, skipped by past Brier runner-up Shawn Adams, has been completely off the radar for the past couple of years. This team is capable of beating anyone on any given day, however, and it would not surprise me at all if they made a serious playoff run.
Team Northern Ontario is back intact after reaching the semifinals of last year's Brier, and skip Brad Jacobs now has a team coming into this event with added experience. This team just barely made it into this event, however, and will have to be at their very best to make the playoffs in this field. But they are capable.
Team Saskatchewan is skipped by the poised and experienced Pat Simmons. This team has had a consistent past few seasons but has a significant change this year with Steve Laycock now calling the game, while Simmons continues to throw the last stone. Saskatchewan has captured three consecutive Canadian championships this year, winning the junior men's, junior women's and the Scotties titles already. Can Simmons complete the full sweep for the Green Province?
Team British Columbia, skipped by Jim Cotter, is looking to have that breakthrough event as well. With longtime skip Bob Ursel out with a knee injury, Cotter has had to take the helm and has done a wonderful job taking on the role as leader of this team. Newcomer Ken Maskiewich, at third, will be critical to this team making a playoff run. This team will need to be at their best to advance, but can beat the best at any time.In over their heads?
Again, from east to west, these teams will struggle in this field.
Team New Brunswick, skipped by James Grattan, has tons of experience, but will need to bring their best to beat this field. Consistency will be a struggle, but this team can upset the big guns.
Team Prince Edward Island, skipped by Eddie MacKenzie, will have to be at their best to win more than a couple of games in this field. The least-experienced team in the field will do well to escape the bottom of the pack in London.
Team Quebec, skipped by Francois Gagne, is quite inexperienced at this level and will be in tough against many of these teams. Could be a long week for them.
Team Yukon/Northwest Territories, skipped by Jamie Koe, is long on experience but lacks that battle-hardened quality of many of the top teams. They have had the odd good run at the Brier, but consistency will be difficult to come by here.How they'll finish (with projected round-robin records)Winner
: Ontario (10-1)Runner-up
: Manitoba (9-2) Bronze
: Alberta (9-2)
Nova Scotia (6-5)
British Columbia (6-5)
Northern Ontario (5-6)
New Brunswick (4-7)
Yukon/Northwest Territories (2-9)
Prince Edward Island (1-10)
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