It’s almost “go time” for the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings.
The Canadian Olympic curling trials begin Saturday in Ottawa to determine the nation’s men’s and women’s teams for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Both fields are absolutely stacked with talent deeper than the Mariana Trench. Several teams are more than worthy of wearing red and white and sure to be medal contenders with no free spaces on the bingo card in these wide-open fields.
Our Roar of the Rings preview isn’t big enough for one round of Eight Ends, so here’s the first half looking at the men’s teams (check back Tuesday for our women’s preview). We’ve listed the teams in alphabetical order, so don’t flip out if your favourite is near the bottom.
1st End: Team Bottcher
Lineup: Brendan Bottcher, Darren Moulding, Bradley Thiessen, Karrick Martin
Our first team up also happens to be the last team to qualify by punching its ticket just a few weeks ago through the pre-trials in Summerside, P.E.I. The 25-year-old Bottcher has represented Canada before at the world juniors and Winter Universiade. The team has picked up two World Curling Tour title wins recently in Medicine Hat and Red Deer but will still be the underdogs and in tough. We’ve seen it happen before though.
2nd End: Team Carruthers
Lineup: Reid Carruthers, Braeden Moskowy, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson
Team Carruthers is heating up heading into the Olympic Trials much like they were around this time a year ago when they won the Canada Cup to qualify. Carruthers has captured the Canad Inns Men’s Classic title and earned back-to-back Grand Slam playoff appearances in recent weeks. Carruthers has learned what worked and what didn’t during his time with Team Stoughton and has also taken a page from fellow Winnipeg club Team Jones in terms of preparation planning. Expect the teacher to be ready for this exam.
3rd End: Team Epping
Lineup: John Epping, Mathew Camm, Patrick Janssen, Tim March
Team Epping is streaky but when they’re on, watch out. The crew is well aware early December is when they should be peaking. Epping finished third at the past two Canada Cup tournaments (taking place around the same time of the year) and also captured the Meridian Canadian Open in December 2015. If Epping can pull off those highlight reel angle raises that leave opponents befuddled, they’ll be hard to beat.
4th End: Team Gushue
Lineup: Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker
Hometown: St. John’s, N.L.
It might be hard to believe but this is Gushue’s first Olympic Trials since winning it in 2005 (and then going on to capture gold at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy). Gushue was the underdog back then — as Jeff Stoughton famously said he had “no chance” — but it’s a different story this time around. Team Gushue is arguably the most solid from skip to lead and Canada’s best shot at securing gold.
The reigning Brier and world champion Gushue jumped out to a scorching hot streak in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling running 14-0 through the Tour Challenge Tier 1 and Masters. There were a couple sketchy wins along the way and Team Gushue finally looked human at the BOOST National losing to Team Morris in round-robin play and Team McEwen in the quarterfinals. Gushue is as close to a favourite heading into the show but as we saw with the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup that’s not always a given.
5th End: Team Jacobs
Lineup: Brad Jacobs, Ryan Fry, E.J. Harnden, Ryan Harnden
Hometown: Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
No team has successfully defended the Olympic gold medal in men’s curling but Team Jacobs looks poised to become the first. The BOOST National was supposed to be their sendoff party in their hometown, but that quickly turned to disappointment when they missed the playoffs. Still, they’re a tight group and a complete powerhouse when they’re firing on all cylinders as we saw four years ago when they ran the table to win the 2013 Olympic Trials.
6th End: Team Koe
Lineup: Kevin Koe, Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing, Ben Hebert
When the supergroup formed in 2014 they were an early contender for the Olympic Trials already and haven’t disappointed. Team Koe is on the rise again with playoff appearances at the past two Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling tournaments plus a title win at the Ashley Home Store Curling Classic sandwiched between. They’re also not that far removed from winning the Canada Cup in 2015 nor Brier and world titles in 2016. Like Team Epping though, it comes down to their skip delivering in the clutch and when Koe is on his game there’s little to stop him.
7th End: Team Laycock
Lineup: Steve Laycock, Kirk Muyres, Matt Dunstone, Dallan Muyres
Team Laycock is an intriguing entry as they opted to skip the BOOST National to focus on training. From what we have seen earlier in the year, it wasn’t too stellar as they’re currently ranked 32nd on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date charts. The secret weapon here is two-time Canadian junior champion Dunstone, who just joined Team Laycock late last season. As Kirk Muyres told sportsnet.ca earlier this season, Dunstone has kept things fresh and perhaps they’re not burned out of each other like other teams are.
8th End: Team McEwen
Lineup: Mike McEwen, B.J. Neufeld, Matt Wozniak, Denni Neufeld
When this Olympic quadrennial cycle started Team McEwen was unstoppable winning four World Curling Tour titles out of the gate and finishing 2014-15 with eight championships altogether. This column once likened them to Bo Jackson’s character in the NES classic Tecmo Bowl. They’re not running at that pace right now, but Team McEwen looks sharp following semifinal finishes at the Masters and BOOST National.
Extra End: Team Morris
Lineup: John Morris, Jim Cotter, Catlin Schneider, Tyrel Griffith
Hometown: Vernon, B.C.
Morris previously threw third stones while skipping — with Cotter at fourth — but a flip in the batting order during the Road to the Roar was the spark needed to secure an Olympic Trials berth. Can Johnny Mo keep the mojo going? Morris, who grew up in Ottawa, has been down this path before winning the 2010 Olympic gold medal with Kevin Martin and skipping a darkhorse team with Cotter out of the pre-trials and into the Olympic Trials final in 2013. Déjà vu? We’re not ruling anything out.