Best Brier field ever? Past champions looking for Canada's curling prize
Calgary skip Kevin Koe eyes history, looking for 5th Brier title
It seems every year, right about this exact moment on the eve of the Brier, fans and curling pundits proclaim the latest Brier field is the most talent-laden it's ever been.
But surely, this is the deepest Brier field ever, right?
Most notably, Calgary skip Kevin Koe is looking to win his fifth Brier title, and should he do it in Kingston, he'll have more national championships than any other male skip to ever play game.
Koe, 45, will be wearing the Maple Leaf as Team Canada at this year's Brier after winning the championship in Brandon, Man., last March in a thrilling final against Edmonton's Brendan Bottcher.
Koe's lead, Ben Hebert, is also looking for his fifth Brier championship to move into elite company.
But defending the title isn't going to be easy for Koe and company with a number of past champions competing.
Past Brier Champions eye another Prize
Brad Gushue and his team from Newfoundland and Labrador are looking for their third Brier title in the last four years. It's Gushue's 17th appearance at the national championship – he's no stranger to Canada's curling extravaganza.
Gushue finally broke through after years of disappointment by capturing his first championship in front of a raucous hometown crowd in St. John's in 2017. He followed that up by defending the title in Regina one year later.
Then there's Brad Jacobs and his revamped Northern Ontario team – they added 2010 Olympic champion Marc Kennedy during the offseason in place of third Ryan Fry. Jacobs also won a gold medal at the Olympics in 2014. A year earlier, he won the 2013 Brier.
Jacobs is always a threat at the Brier, in the hunt as the end of the week nears. Will this new look team finally get Northern Ontario back on top of Canada's curling world? The team from Sault Ste. Marie enters the Brier as the country's top team on the Canadian Team Ranking System.
Breakthrough at the Brier?
Brendan Bottcher and his team from Edmonton are once again back at the Brier and looking to finally break through. Two years ago, Bottcher lost the final to Brad Gushue – then he lost to Koe last year. Will the third trip be the charm?
This team has been remarkably consistent over the past two seasons with a number of Grand Slam of Curling wins and the back-to-back Brier final appearances. They'd love nothing more than to take one step higher to the top of the podium at this year's championship in Kingston.
Then there's John Epping's team from Ontario. Epping picked up Ryan Fry this past offseason and the team is currently ranked second-highest in Canada.
Epping is having one of his strongest seasons ever with two Slam wins and a Canada Cup win at the beginning of December.
McEwen wins Wild Card spot
Mike McEwen and his team from Winnipeg earned the final spot at this year's Brier by winning a tension-filled Wild Card game on Friday night in Kingston.
The top two teams on the Canadian Team Ranking System that didn't qualify for the Brier through their provincial/territorial championships earn the last-chance spot to make it into the tournament.
That left McEwen taking on Glenn Howard in the one-game showdown.
Early in the game, Howard put a lot of pressure on McEwen, but it was the 39-year-old skip from Brandon, Man., who bailed his team out with some remarkable shots.
It came down to the final rock of the game, when McEwen calmly delivered a game-winning draw for the victory and a ticket into this year's championship.
WATCH | McEwen outlasts Howard for Brier berth:
The 16 teams are split into two pools of eight, based on their Canadian Team Ranking System standing. They play seven round-robin games within their pool, with the top four teams in each group moving into the championship pool.
1. Northern Ontario, Brad Jacobs
4. Alberta, Brendan Bottcher
5. Newfoundland/Labrador, Brad Gushue
8. Manitoba, Jason Gunnlaugson
9. Nova Scotia, Jamie Murphy
12. Quebec, Alek Bedard
13. Prince Edward Island, Bryan Cochrane
16. Nunavut, Jake Higgs
2. Ontario, John Epping
3. Team Wild Card, Mike McEwen
6. Team Canada, Kevin Koe
7. Saskatchewan, Matt Dunstone
10. British Columbia, Steve Laycock
11. New Brunswick, James Grattan
14. Yukon, Thomas Scoffin
15. Northwest Territories, Jamie Koe
The four teams advancing from Pool A will play the four teams advancing from Pool B on Thursday and Friday, and then the top four win-loss records (including the preliminary round) will move into the traditional page playoffs beginning Saturday.
The semifinal is Sunday, March 8, at noon, while the gold-medal game is at 7 p.m ET.
The winning team will represent Canada at the 2020 Men's World Curling Championship March 28-April 5 in Glasgow, Scotland. The winner will also defend its title as Team Canada in the 2021 Brier in Kelowna, B.C., and earn a direct-entry berth into the 2021 Roar of the Rings in Saskatoon.