Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba advancing to the playoffs at the Canadian men's curling championship was predictable. Yukon and Northwest Territories joining the perennial powers was not.
Jamie Koe's Yellowknife team snared the fourth and final playoff berth with an 8-3 win over B.C.'s Jim Cotter to finish the preliminary round 7-4 on Thursday.
It's the first time since playoff games were introduced to the Brier format in 1980 that a Territories team has made the playoffs. Don Twa's Territories team finished tied for runner-up in 1975 when the event was a round-robin format.
"It's unreal," Koe said. "We're from the north. We don't get to play that much, or we choose not to play that much because it's so expensive, so it's pretty special and we know everyone back home is going nuts right now.
"Once I get to my phone, it's going to be going off all night."
Koe joins older brother and Alberta skip Kevin in the final four and will face him in a Page playoff between the third and fourth seeds Saturday.
"It's guaranteed someone is going to be in the semifinal," Jamie Koe said. "It's my dad's 65th birthday today so what a way to celebrate his birthday I think."
'It's unreal. We're from the north ... it's pretty special and we know everyone back home is going nuts right now. Once I get to my phone, it's going to be going off all night.'—Yukon/NWT skip Jamie Koe on making the Brier playoffs
Ontario's Glenn Howard (10-1) finished first and Manitoba's Rob Fowler second at 8-3. They'll meet in Friday's Page playoff between the top two seeds.
A direct trip to Sunday's final is on the line. The loser falls to Saturday's semifinal to meet the winner of Koe versus Koe.
Kevin Koe needed a win over Howard on Thursday to finish first, but a 6-3 loss dropped his team to third at 8-3.
Alberta thumped the Territories 11-3 in the preliminary round.
Illness taking toll on Alberta, Ontario curlers
They opened the round robin 6-0, but lost three of their last five. Alberta third Pat Simmons is suffering from a respiratory infection and taking antibiotics for it.
Kevin Koe won the Canadian and world championships two years ago. While the Alberta skip understands what his brother's accomplishment means to him and to curling in Yukon and Northwest Territories, he's not willing to let Jamie make more history Saturday.
"I'm happy they're in the playoffs for sure," Kevin Koe said. "It's huge for everyone back home and curling back home.
"It's a good story and hopefully it ends Saturday. It's time for us to get our killer instinct out. We've got to come out and beat up whoever we're playing. Now that they're in the playoffs, that's a good week for them and it's time to end it."
Jamie Koe skipped the Territories in five previous Briers, with his best record 6-5 in 2006 in Regina.
"We've been able to win games at the Brier and we have a lot of Brier experience on our team, so that definitely helps," he said. "The ice is tricky and tricky ice may be a bit to our advantage. We're used to playing on tricky ice. We were able to put it together for a week."
Howard's Coldwater Curling Club foursome may have been the first to secure a playoff berth, but they drained some of the tank to do it.
Not only is lead Craig Savill just recovering from a vicious stomach ailment that required daily intravenous treatments, but Ontario played five extra-end games in the round robin and won four of them. Their only loss was in an extra end to the Territories.
"I don't recall a Brier where we've had to work that hard," said Howard, the oldest player in the field at 49. "It's worked out well so far, but it's been a bit of a grind for us.
"It's a good time to start peaking."
Manitoba's Fowler looking for breakthrough
Ontario's reward for finishing first is starting their playoff game against Manitoba with last-rock advantage. They also get first choice in rock selection. Howard has played in five of the last six finals, winning one in 2007.
"Our first goal was to get the playoffs and we did that, second was to get to the one-two game with hammer and we did that," Howard said. "Now we want to win this game and get to the final and hopefully win the final.
"You don't want to lose any games. If you lose you get that second chance. I do love this Page system, but the bottom is … we want to win this game and get ourselves back in this final. Can't win unless to you get to the final."
Fowler expected his team to be where it is because of who they beat to get to the Brier.
One of the curling giants he slayed was his mentor, last year's Canadian and world champion Jeff Stoughton, in a playoff game at the Manitoba championships. Then it was Mike McEwen, the top-ranked team on the World Curling Tour, in the provincial final.
Fowler's foursome won four games in a row to finish the preliminary round. Even when they were 4-3, Fowler still believed he had a championship team.
"We had a clear goal coming here," Fowler said. "The goal was more than making the playoffs and we're going to be working hard to achieve that goal here by the end of the weekend.
"To be a champion, you've got to play your best when it means the most and that's going to be the focus here this weekend."
Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs, Brunswick's Terry Odishaw and Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador finished 5-6. B.C.'s Cotter, Quebec's Robert Desjardins and Nova Scotia's Jamie Murphy ended up 4-7. Saskatchewan's Scott Manners and Prince Edward Island's Mike Gaudet were both 3-8.