Tim Hortons Brier opens Saturday in Calgary

(Photo by Janette Ahrens/Calgary Flames)History will be made on Saturday afternoon at the Scotiabank Saddledome when Team Canada steps onto the ice for its inaugural game at the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier.

The Calgary-based team of third Pat Simmons, second Carter Rycroft and lead Nolan Thiessen captured the 2014 Canadian men’s curling championship in Kamloops, B.C., 12 months ago to earn the right to become the first Team Canada in Brier history as the defending champion.

After skip Kevin Koe left the team, the remaining three recruited fellow Calgarian John Morris to skip the team, and that lineup will make its Tim Hortons Brier debut in Saturday’s opening draw at 1:30 p.m. (all times Mountain) against Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers.

Morris is a two-time Tim Hortons Brier champion (2008, 2009) and 2010 Olympic gold-medallist (all while playing third for Alberta’s Kevin Martin), while Rycroft and Thiessen both won two Brier titles with Koe (2010, 2014).

Koe, meanwhile, will be skipping his new team (third Marc Kennedy, vice-skip Brent Laing [throwing second rocks], lead Ben Hebert) at the Tim Hortons Brier after winning his fourth Alberta championship over the past six years. Koe will face off against his former teammates in the highly anticipated Battle of Alberta on Tuesday, March 3, at 6:30 p.m.

For Morris, it will be the record-setting fourth set of colours worn by a player at the Tim Hortons Brier. He’s previously represented British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. He had shared the record of three with his father Earle (Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba) and Ryan Fry (Manitoba, Newfoundland/Labrador, Northern Ontario).

But while the first Battle of Alberta stands out in the round-robin draw, it’s by no means the only game with high-profile teams and high-profile implications.

Team Canada, from left, Carter Rycroft, John Morris, Nolan Thiessen and Pat Simmons will open the Tim Hortons Brier on Saturday.
Team Canada, from left, Carter Rycroft, John Morris, Nolan Thiessen and Pat Simmons will open the Tim Hortons Brier on Saturday.

The field includes two other Olympic gold-medallists — reigning Olympic champ Brad Jacobs and his team from Northern Ontario (third Ryan Fry, second E.J. Harnden, lead Ryan Harnden) and 2006 champ Brad Gushue and his longtime third Mark Nichols from Newfoundland/Labrador (the team is rounded out by second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker).

More experience is provided by the likes of 2006 Brier champion Jean-Michel Ménard of Quebec, who finished fourth at the 2014 Tim Hortons Brier with his Saint-Romuald quartet.

Last year’s runner-up — B.C.’s Jim Cotter (who had Morris calling the game and throwing third rocks last year) — will also be in the hunt for a playoff berth at the Scotiabank Saddledome with his team from Vernon/Kelowna.

Carruthers, meanwhile, advanced to his first Tim Hortons Brier as a skip by taking down the country’s hottest team in the Manitoba championship, beating Mike McEwen in an all-Winnipeg final.

Coming out of Saskatchewan is Saskatoon’s Steve Laycock, a former world junior champion who is currently sitting fifth on the Canadian Team Ranking System (Jacobs, Gushue and Carruthers are second, third and fourth respectively, behind the leading McEwen foursome).

Rounding out the field for the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier are Ontario’s Mark Kean (Stoney Creek), Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories (Yellowknife), New Brunswick’s Jeremy Mallais (Saint John), Nova Scotia’s Glen MacLeod (Halifax), Prince Edward Island’s Adam Casey (Summerside/Charlottetown) and the Yukon’s Robert Smallwood (Whitehorse)

It will be the  fourth time the Canadian men’s curling championship has been played at the Saddledome (curling capacity approximately 19,000 seats), and the seventh time it’s been played in Calgary. In all three previous Saddledome Briers, Alberta teams prevailed: Martin in 1997 and 2009, and Randy Ferbey in 2002. Calgary previously played host in 1948, 1961 and 1980.

The 1997 Brier featured the single-game attendance record for the event: 17,024.

The 2015 Tim Hortons Brier will mark the 11th year of title sponsorship of the Canadian men’s championship by Tim Hortons.

It will be the 86th renewal of the Canadian men’s curling championship. Alberta has played host to the Brier on 13 previous occasions since the event’s inception in 1927. The Brier has been played in 31 cities across Canada, from Victoria to St. John’s. Manitoba has won a leading 27 Briers, while Alberta is just one back with 26.

Teams will play a 12-team round-robin draw leading to the Page playoff round, which sees the top two teams meeting in the Page 1-2 game, with the winner advancing to the final while the loser goes to the semifinal. The third- and fourth-place teams meet in the Page 3-4 game, with the winner advancing to the semifinal on Saturday night. The loser plays in the bronze-medal game Sunday morning against the semifinal loser.

The Tim Hortons Brier will be preceded for the first time by a a pre-qualifying round to determine the final entry into the 12-team main draw.

Team Canada is joined in the main draw by the 10 teams with the best combined records in the previous three Briers, meaning Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Yukon will play off for the 12th and final berth. Nunavut declined an opportunity to participate.

Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and the Yukon played a single round-robin at the Scotiabank Saddledome. The teams with the two best records advancing to the play-in game, which will be contested Saturday, Feb. 28, at 1:30 p.m. (all times Mountain), concurrent with the opening draw of the Tim Hortons Brier round-robin. The Yukon won against PEI with a final score of 8 to 1 on Thursday evening. Yukon went on to play Nova Scotia at 8am today. The final score of that game was Nova Scotia 9 – Yukon 5. Admission to the pre-qualifying rounds is free.

The schedule for the remaining pre-qualifying rounds:

Friday, Feb. 27
3:30 p.m. — Nova Scotia vs. P.E.I.
Saturday, Feb. 28
1:30 p.m. — Pre-qualifying final

TSN/RDS2, the official broadcast partner of the CCA’s Season of Champions, will provide complete coverage of the Tim Hortons Brier, leading to the gold-medal game on March 8 at 5 p.m.

The winner of the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier will represent Canada at the Ford World Men’s Championship, March 28-April 5 in Halifax, in addition to qualifying for the 2015 Home Hardware Canada Cup in Grande Prairie, Alta., the 2016 World Financial Group Continental Cup in Las Vegas and the 2016 Tim Hortons Brier in Ottawa

For ticket information, go to www.curling.ca/2015brier-en/tickets/

(Curling Canada)