There’s just one word to describe the 2016 Tim Hortons Brier field: stacked.
Contenders from across the country line the list of teams set to compete for the national title — March 5-13 in Ottawa — and a trip to the world championship (click here to jump to our table featuring the provincial reps).
Pat Simmons, Kevin Koe and Glenn Howard have all captured multiple Brier titles in the past and all look poised to win another while Brad Gushue and “Brier rookie” Mike McEwen aim to claim their first.
Throw in perennial contenders like Steve Laycock and Jim Cotter plus 2013 Brier winner and reigning Olympic champ Brad Jacobs to the mix and you’ve got quite the lineup.
It'll certainly be a Brier for the ages.
1st End: Mike McEwen, Manitoba champion
Yes, it's finally true: Mike McEwen is the Manitoba men's provincial champion.
After settling for runner-up five times, McEwen and his teammates B.J. Neufeld, Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld are now etched on the trophy following a 4-2 victory over Canadian junior champ Matt Dunstone in Sunday's final.
Of course, it came down to the final shot of the game to secure the title and McEwen was right on the money for the win.
It was a bit anticlimactic in the sense that Dunstone had already committed to attending the world juniors running the same week as the Brier, thus McEwen secured the Manitoba berth prior to throwing a rock in the final. But with so many heartbreaking finishes coming up just short previously, Team McEwen wanted to win this one badly.
Watching the team's outpour of emotion celebrating just shows you how much it meant to them.
Team McEwen went 7-0 through one of the toughest provincial fields, including dethroning defending champ Reid Carruthers in the page playoffs prior to the final, and are now off to their first Tim Hortons Brier where they should be among the (many) favourites.
2nd End: The Matt Dunstone mixtape
Matt Dunstone, you made it.
The white-hot Winnipeg-based team of Dunstone, Colton Lott, Kyle Doering and Robbie Gordon -- already buzzing fresh off of winning the Canadian junior title -- were simply sensational in their run to the Manitoba men's final.
Dunstone, 20, and his team were eligible and qualified fair and square for provincials prior to capturing the Canadian junior crown, but there was some criticism online debating their inclusion since they did not intend on going to the Brier if they had won due to the world juniors conflicting.
However, there was a lot more on the line than just the berth. The chance of playing for a title in a hotly-contested province, national exposure being featured coast-to-coast on Sportsnet, exposure for his sponsors (and perhaps attracting potential sponsors), CTRS points on the road to the 2017 Olympic trials plus other intangibles like building confidence and experience all add up as a win.
Tl;Dr: Don't hate the player, hate the game.
Besides, if Dunstone hadn't played in provincials, we would have been denied one of the most electrifying performances of all the playdowns. While Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon were tearing it up in the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday night, Dunstone and his teammates were also putting on a clinic in the Manitoba playoffs ripping runbacks, doubles, and runback doubles with ease.
First, check out this amazing runback double Dunstone pulled off to score four against William Lyburn.
Next up from the semifinal, just when it looked like Carruthers had shot stone locked up, Dunstone followed through hoping for a single and ending up with another four-ender.
If this was like the Slam Dunk Contest, those would both receive the perfect 50.
Even without hammer, there were countless other shots Team Dunstone made that just left their opponents befuddled, forced to blank the end and start from scratch.
Team Dunstone are now fine-tuned for the world juniors and should end up repping Canada well on the global stage in Denmark.
3rd End: Koe reclaims Alberta crown
It wasn't the direct path back to the Alberta title Kevin Koe was looking for, but the two-time Brier winner made it count when it mattered most.
Koe was on point in Sunday's final against Charley Thomas to successfully defend the Boston Pizza Cup.
Check out this triple takeout Koe made on a pistol shot to score three in the third end to take the lead.
While it wasn't the "three count" for the match, it did make it tricky for Thomas, who qualified A-side and beat Koe in the A vs. B page playoff, to mount a comeback. Koe never relinquished the lead and held on in the 8-4 win.
Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs and Jim Cotter of B.C. won their respective playdowns to gear up for return trips to the Tim Hortons Brier. Cotter cruised through the B.C. draw at 7-0 while Jacobs was nearly perfect in Northern Ontario as well with just a small blemish in the round robin to finish with an overall 7-1 record.
Time to make like D-Von Dudley and get the table.
2016 TIM HORTONS BRIER LINEUP
|New Brunswick||Mike Kennedy|
|Newfoundland & Labrador||Brad Gushue|
|Northern Ontario||Brad Jacobs|
|Northwest Territories||Jamie Koe|
|Nova Scotia||Jamie Murphy|
5th End: Scotties starting soon
The focus in Canadian curling now shifts back to the women's division. The Scotties Tournament of Hearts beginning Thursday with the pre-qualifier stage in Grande Prairie, Alta.
Keep it here later this week for an exclusive interview with Team Alberta's Chelsea Carey, as the Winnipeg-born skip shares how weird it's going to be playing against Team Manitoba.
6th End: Elsewhere in the curling world
Two other high-profile nationals to keep an eye on this week are the Swiss League Championship and the Go Coco Scottish Curling Championships.
The Swiss League Championships are in full swing with Tour Challenge winner Silvana Tirinzoni currently atop of the women's leaderboard at 4-0. Peter De Cruz and Sven Michel holding similar 4-0 records to sit tied for first on the men's side and clash later Monday.
Both events wrap up Saturday.
7th End: Pinty's GSOC 2016-17 schedule released
The Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling announced its schedule for the 2016-17 season on Sunday (click here for the official release).
The series returns to a few familiar locations plus some new spots for another coast-to-coast season. There are still three events left on this year, so before we get too far ahead of ourselves let's turn to ...
8th End: Countdown to the Elite 10
While the Brier might look like a Grand Slam field, the next Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling event is actually just a little over a month away with the Elite 10 running March 17-20 in Victoria (click here for ticket information)
The conclusion of provincial playdowns mark the cutoff date for qualification, so expect invites in the mail this week and an official announcement soon featuring the teams set to compete.