'Legends of Rock' ready to put on a great Brier show
Friday, March 7, 2008 | 04:46 AM ET
You gotta love the tag line for the 2008 Tim Hortons Brier in Winnipeg: The Legends of Rock.
The tradition and prestige of the Brier is second to none in the world of curling. There is something about that province vs. province competition that never gets old. The Brier legend is all about traditional rivalries, provincial pride, individual expectations, media spotlights, nightly entertainment, patch parties, crazy fans and a big prize package for only one winning team.
There are a few living "legends of rock" that are the clear pre-event favourites. These two skips are not in the category of "Will they make the playoffs," but rather the category of "Most likely to win." I'm talking about reigning Canadian and world champion Glenn Howard of Ontario, and reigning king of the Grand Slams Kevin Martin of Alberta.
These two teams are a cut above the rest of the field. So the bigger question at this year’s Brier is which other teams will make the playoffs. That’s where the debate is in the pre-event pool. For all of you placing your bets after tonight’s league game, here is my cheat sheet:
1. Ontario (Howard): As world champs, they are king of the hill. And, they're fun to watch! All four players have a great sense of self-deprecating humour, so listen closely to their mikes to get all the inside jokes (Richie Hart is hilarious!). They play aggressively – that means they keep rocks in play even with a big lead.
2. Alberta (Martin) This is a very powerful team - a successful, experienced skip with three young guns setting up his shots. When this team is hot, they are unbeatable. But, do they have the maturity to help each other out when they struggle? Will John Morris’s broken pinkie affect his play? Defensively, there is no team better with the big-weight shots – it is amazing to watch the granite fly!
(Now, the really tough part: picking the other contenders)
3. Manitoba (Kerry Burtnyk): I am going out on a limb here, but I'm a big fan of the abilities of Kerry Burtnyk. He is a former champion, an incredible shotmaker and the hometown favourite. He came out of retirement last season and has guided his young team to the No. 4 position in the Canadian Team Ranking System. The question is whether the Winnipeg crowd will help or hinder the rookies on this team.
4. Saskatchewan (Pat Simmons): This team from the land of green is making its fourth straight appearance at the Brier and has narrowly missed the playoffs every time. The team works very hard on the World Curling Tour and is ranked No. 6 in the CTRS. They consistently qualify in Slam events and are waiting for their breakthrough year. This could be it.
5. Newfoundland & Labrador (Brad Gushue): The 2006 Olympic gold medallists, Gushue and third Mark Nichols are still sharp shooters and big-weight hitters. But they have still to prove themselves with their new front-end players. You can almost taste the team’s frustration when their performance does not meet up with expectations (see last weekend's Canada Cup Page playoffs).
6. Quebec (Jean-Michel Menard): Two members of the 2006 Brier championship team return to the big show in skip Menard and second Eric Sylvain. This is a very likeable team with a leader that knows how to win under pressure. But, like Gushue, Menard needs to prove himslef with the new team - and I'm talking really new with former junior Martin Crete at third.
7. B.C. (Bob Ursel): Former Brier champions Jim Ursel and Rick Folk will be cheering on their sons on this team. Bobby Ursel can beat the favourites, but will need to show more consistency than he has in the regular season to get on the big roll needed to advance in this field.
8.-12. Nova Scotia (Brian Rafuse), New Brunswick (James Grattan), P.E.I. (Peter Gallant), Northern Ontario (Eric Harnden) Yukon/ Northwest Territories (Chad Cowan)
There are tons of possibilities – underdogs, favourites, successes, failures, dreams coming true – and they are available to every team here. Bring on Saturday, and let the Legends of Rock play!
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About the Author
Olympic curling gold medallist turned broadcaster Joan McCusker returns for her seventh season as an analyst on Championship Curling on CBC.
McCusker was part of a curling foursome that dominated the world of women’s curling in the 1990s. With her teammates Sandra Schmirler, Jan Betker and Marcia Gudereit, Joan won three Canadian and three world curling titles in 1993, 1994 and 1997. While balancing young families and careers, the team rallied in the fall of 1997 to win the Canadian Olympic curling trials and the right to represent Canada at the Nagano Winter Games.
Drawing on her experiences as a teacher, mom, world and Olympic champion curler and broadcaster, McCusker serves as a motivational speaker focusing on how ordinary people can build extraordinary lives.
She resides in Regina with her husband Brian and three children.
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