By Rory McCusker - A history of winning would seem to be the common ground between the top teams at this year's Tim Hortons Brier.
Kevin Koe and Brad Jacobs occupy the top two spots after championship pool play and will face off in today's 1vs2 game. Both these skips have won this men's championship before - with Jacobs in 2013, and Koe having won in 2010, 2014, and 2016. That's not all, these two skips share another top tier accomplishment, an Olympic trials win. Koe did so recently, last season winning the right to represent Canada at the 2018 Olympics. Jacobs won the previous trials to represent Canada 2014 Olympics. This history of success shared between the two teams seems fitting as they earn #1 and #2 spots after round robin play.
Following close behind these top two at #3 this week is another skip with tremendous curling success, Brad Gushue. After a remarkable 16 Brier appearances, Brad finally captured his first Brier title in 2017. He rode this success to a repeat title last year. Now, in 2019, he looks to become the first skip other than Randy Ferby to win 3 consecutive Brier titles. Brad Also boasts an Olympic trials win, representing Canada at the 2006 Olympic games.
The comparable resumes of these three skips would seem to suggest that championship experience is the key factor in competing for a Brier title. Looking at other previous Brier winners of the last 10 years, we see more of the same - veteran, experienced, successful skips hoisting the tankard. Champions of the last ten years Pat Simmons, Glenn Howard, Jeff Stoughton, Kevin Martin along with this year's competitors Brad Gushue, Kevin Koe, and Brad Jacobs all speak to an era where the veterans are king. In the modern curling era, does winning a Brier require previous championship level success?
Perhaps not. The final Skip to fill out the top four is Brendan Bottcher, working to buck this trend of veteran winners with his Wildcard team. At just 27 years old, he is the second youngest skip in the field. However, top-level success has not eluded this young man. After collecting a world junior title in 2012, Bottcher has worked his way up the men's ranks. 3 consecutive brier appearances illustrate his upward trend in recent years, last year reaching a new career high when making the Brier final. His road there was impressive - defeating Jacobs in the 3vs4 game, then defeating Epping in the semi-final with a jaw-dropping draw to the button to end the game. He would fall to Gushue in the final.
The playoff bracket at the 2019 Brier contains no surprises, no overachievers, or true underdogs. These four teams have rightfully earned their place atop the competition. With the recent history of veteran skips coming out victorious at the Brier, will this be the year a new, young, relatively unproven skip in Brendan Bottcher hoist the tankard? Will one of Canada's recent Olympic representatives in Koe and Jacobs capture another title? Or, will Brad Gushue make history with his 3rd consecutive win?
We will find out this weekend in Brandon.