Brier 2015: Stakes raised for Battle of Alberta

Brier Saddledome
The Saddledome is ready for a Battle of Alberta at the 2015 Tim Horton's Brier. Kevin Smith / Global News

CALGARY – The Brier’s Battle of Alberta has taken on a different tone from its pre-tournament hype.

Eight Albertan curlers who have history with each other and two teams skipped by Calgarians at a Brier in their hometown had already set Tuesday evening up as the marquee draw of the round robin.

The curling accomplishments of John Morris, Kevin Koe and their teammates put them among the pre-tournament favourites at the Canadian men’s curling championship.

Their familiarity with each other bred the possibility of fun, fireworks or both when they meet at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

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But the slow starts of Team Canada’s Morris and Alberta’s Koe at the Tim Hortons Brier has the potential to make it a game where one team eliminates the other from playoff contention, or at least be pivotal in their playoff prospects.

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The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin Friday morning get into the Page playoff. Koe was 2-2 and Morris 2-3 heading into Tuesday.

“Both of us have a few more losses than we’d hoped at this point,” Morris said Monday. “Both of us are still in it.

“We’ll be fighting for our life. I don’t think it takes anything away from it. Every game is important. Not just that one.”

READ MORE: Brier preview – 2015 title up for grabs

Koe avoided joining Morris at three losses with a 7-5 win over Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard.

“There will be a lot of intensity,” he predicted of his matchup with Morris. “They’re going to need it. They’re in a bit of a hole now too. We’re starting to play well and we’ve just got to keep it going.”

Kevin Koe
Canada’s Kevin Koe releases the stone against the U.S. at the World Men’s Curling Championship at the Capital Gymnasium in Beijing Tuesday, April 1, 2014. AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs was alone atop the standings at 5-0 after a 7-3 win over Ontario’s Mark Kean, but there was controversy in the game.

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Ontario’s coach Bryan Cochrane complained to officials following the game about a Northern Ontario player rapping the foot of Ontario third Mat Camm with a broom after he’d released a stone.

“I have some concerns for sure,” Cochrane said.

Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock improved to 3-1 with an 8-4 victory over Morris. Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador dropped his second in a row — an 8-5 loss to Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers — to fall to 3-2.

Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, B.C.’s Jim Cotter and Prince Edward Island’s Adam Casey were 2-2. Quebec fell to 2-3 alongside Canada.

New Brunswick’s Jeremy Mallais was 1-3 and Jamie Koe of Northwest Territories was still looking for a win after four games.

The multiple ways Morris, Koe and their respective teams are intertwined is a tangle.

The well-hashed backstory is Koe, Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen won last year’s Canadian championship to become the first defending champion to earn an automatic berth in the following year’s Canadian championship.

But Koe left the team to form a new one with Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert. His former teammates recruited Morris to skip them in Calgary.

Morris has been a teammate of every member of Koe’s foursome at some point in his career including Koe himself. Koe was Morris’s third from 2004 to 2006.

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John Morris
John Morris throws a rock in March 2013, when he was still on Kevin Martin’s curling team. The pair will meet in the Olympic curling trials semi-final. Jason Franson / The Canadian Press

Morris won Olympic gold, a pair of Canadian champions and a world title playing third for Kevin Martin with Kennedy and Hebert on the front end. Laing played lead for Morris back when they curled out of Ontario between 1998 and 2003.

“There’s definitely a lot of history on these two teams for everyone,” Koe said. “Everyone on my team has played with John, even Brent going way back and obviously myself with the other three.

“The relationship is good. We’re friends off the ice for sure. No one took the changes too bad. We’re all great friends off the ice for sure so that being said, there’s probably no other team either of us would rather beat. You don’t like losing to old teammates that’s for sure.”

It was Morris who Koe beat in the Brier final last year when Morris skipped B.C. Both men curl out of the Glencoe Club in downtown Calgary.

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“There’s no hard feelings between any of us,” Morris said. “I still will talk and text regularly with Marc and Ben who I played with for many years with Martin and I’m sure guys are the same with Koe.

“That being said, I’m sure we’ll want to be kicking each other’s butts out there on Tuesday night.”

Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell and running back Jon Cornish are among the players from the Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders who will lead the curlers onto the ice Tuesday evening.