LONDON, Ont. — It’s as tough a Tim Hortons Brier field as you could possibly put together if you hand-picked the teams yourself.
“You go across the provinces and it’s about as tough as it can get,” said Vancouver 2010 Olympic gold-medal winner Kevin Martin.
The four-time Brier winner said if he were picking, the only one he might debate would be Mike McEwan of Manitoba for the year he’s had, but certainly not his career compared to two-time Brier winner Jeff Stoughton in his ninth trip to the great celebration of Canadiana.
The field includes 2006 Olympic gold-medal winner Brad Gushue of Newfoundland in his eighth Brier and still looking for his first title, last year’s surprise third-place finisher Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario and a host of familiar names.
“This is the toughest Brier field of the five in which I’ve been involved,” said third John Morris. “You look at Newfoundland, Northern Ontario, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, B.C. They get hot ...”
Yet the question is if Martin can run the table and win a third-straight Brier with a 13-0 record?
In the city which last played host to a Brier in 1974 when St. Albert potato farmer Hec Gervais, a.k.a. The Friendly Giant, won it, there are other questions.
Do you want to witness history?
Or something completely different?
In an era of sports where the dynasties have died, Martin and Alberta continue to rule curling in Canada.
Is it getting old watching the Old Bear win for what would be the eighth Alberta title of the new millennium?
It’s been 31 years since Saskatchewan won the Brier. Manitoba hasn’t won one in 12 years. Those used to be the two powers in the roaring game.
Are Canadians tired of curlers from the province which refers to itself as the Roamin’ Empire, stomp on the Spud Islanders, Newfies, Blue Nosers, Herring Chokers, Fleur Des Lis, Moose Men, Buffalo Boys, Stubble Jumpers, Salmon Bellies and Polar Bears as usual?
If it wasn’t for Glenn Howard of Ontario, wouldn’t the bookies make it Martin’s Olympic gold medal-winning Saudi Albertans versus the Field at the Tim Horton’s Brier which opens here Saturday?
And it’s about Howard, the 2007 champion who will be playing in his 13th Brier, one short of brother Russ Howard’s 14, where he won two as old Hurray Hard’s third.
He’s 0-6 lifetime against Martin at the Brier as a skip.
And he couldn’t beat him in either the round-robin game or the final at the Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials either.
“He’s definitely dominated us the last two or three years. He’s dominated everybody,” said the skip from Coldwater, Ont.
Howard has advanced to four of the last five Brier finals and met Albertans in three and lost all three — two to Martin and last year to Kevin Koe’s Edmonton rink, successfully piloting the province to another win to go with Martin’s two and Randy Ferbey’s four at the front end of the decade.
Will people visit the John Labatt Centre to witness the coronation of Martin as the first skip to win five Briers?
Martin and Ferbey have each won four holding the broom as did Saskatchewan’s Ernie Richardson almost half a century ago.
Martin says he’s not thinking about winning his fifth Brier or extending the team’s Brier winning streak beyond 26.
“I’m not wired that way,” he says. “I’m thinking the same way I was thinking going into the last two Briers. I’m not thinking 11-0. I’m thinking 9-2. You need to go 9-2 or you’re going to end up in the 3-4 game or a tie-breaker and lose control of your destiny.
“I just want to go to the Brier having worked hard, like we have, and shoot 90% as a team. If you do that you have a very good chance to be successful.”
A Brier title against a field like this would certainly be his Canadian crowning glory.
Jonesy's fearless predictions
1 ALBERTA: Kevin Martin wins record fifth.
2.ONTARIO: Glenn Howard bridesmaid again.
3.MANITOBA: Jeff Stoughton hasn’t gone away.
4.NORTHERN ONTARIO: Brad Jacobs third last year.
5. Saskatchewan: Pat Simmons keeps getting back.
6. Newfoundland: Brad Gushue lost a lot of status.
7. Nova Scotia: Shawn Adams a former finalist.
8. Quebec: Francois Gagne longshot with a chance.
9. British Columbia: Jim Cotter might surprise.
10. Territories: Jamie Koe comes to compete.
11. New Brunswick: James Grattan needs a skip.
12. Prince Edward Island: Eddie “Spuds?” MacKenzie?
ALL CAPS: Projected medal round