Kevin Koe returns to the Canadian men’s curling championship attempting to win it a fourth time with a revamped lineup.
Koe downed Ted Appelman 9-5 in the Alberta men’s final Sunday to gain a berth in the Tim Hortons Brier coming up March 1-10 in Brandon, Man.
"These are the games you want to play in," Koe said in Edmonton. "You’re playing good teams for the right to represent Alberta at the Brier and fortunately for us, we beat a great team today."
The last vacancies in the Brier field filled Sunday with the addition of Koe, Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers, Saskatchewan’s Kirk Muyres, Jamie Koe of Northwest Territories and Yukon’s Jon Solberg.
Koe’s victory over Appelman also opened the door a crack for Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher to gain a Brier berth.
Bottcher fell to Koe in Sunday’s semifinal, but because of his national ranking faces Toronto’s John Epping in a win-and-get-in game March 1 to determine the 16th team in Brandon.
Koe would have been in that position had he lost to Appelman.
The veteran skip was happy to avoid a wild-card nailbiter and leave it to Bottcher, who lost to Brad Gushue in last year’s Brier final in Regina.
"It feels a lot better to go there with the Alberta colours," Koe said. "I guess they owe us a dinner or something.
"They’re there now and they have a good chance at being in there, and if they (are), they’ll be one of the favourites as well."
Winner of two straight titles, Gushue from St. John’s, N.L., is chasing a three-peat.
Former Canadian and 2014 Olympic champion Brad Jacobs (Northern Ontario), Scott MacDonald (Ontario), Terry Odishaw (New Brunswick), Stuart Thompson (Nova Scotia), Dave St. Louis (Nunavut), John Likely (P.E.I.), Martin Crete (Quebec), Jim Cotter (B.C.) and Andrew Symonds (Newfoundland and Labrador) round out the group in Brandon.
The winner dons the Maple Leaf for the men’s world championship March 30 to April 7 in Lethbridge, Alta., and also get a bye to next year’s Brier in Kingston, Ont.
Calgary’s Koe claimed national titles in 2010, 2014 and 2016 with at least one new player on his team each time.
His rink underwent another revision prior to this season after finishing fourth in last year’s Winter Olympics.
Koe retained lead Ben Hebert, but B.J. Neufeld and Colton Flasch replaced Marc Kennedy and Brent Laing at vice and second respectively.
After opening the tournament 1-2, Koe rattled off five consecutive victories to take Alberta.
Trailing 5-4 on Sunday, he scored five with an open hit in the ninth end and Appelman shook hands.
"It was weird it was over that quick," Koe said. "We’ve had a great year really for a first-year team, but this is has been our biggest event and biggest game to win it, especially the way we did having to kind of grind it out this week.
"It feels good and will help us long term."
Carruthers, with Mike McEwen at skip, will wear the buffalo for the host province after downing William Lyburn 5-3 in Virden, Man., on Sunday.
Muyres drew for a piece of the four-foot rings with his final shot of the game in Whitewood, Sask., to edge Matthew Dunstone 6-5.
Muyres will be a rookie skip at the Brier, although he’s competed in four previous national championships with Steve Laycock’s team.
"Winning my first one as a skip is pretty special," Muyres told CurlSask. "To make that last shot for the win is just unreal."
Koe’s brother Jamie is skipping Northwest Territories a 13th time at the national championship following an 8-3 victory over Greg Skauge in Yellowknife.
Solberg defeated Thomas Scoffin 5-3 in Whitehorse to win Yukon.
The Canadian women’s championship opens in Sydney, N.S., on Friday when Winnipeg’s Kerri Einarson and Lethbridge’s Casey Scheidegger clash in the wild-card game.
Six-time champion Jennifer Jones is chasing a record-setting seventh crown at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
Three-time winner Rachel Homan of Ontario and 2016 victor Chelsea Carey of Alberta are also vying for more titles.