The last time the Brier was held here, it was supposed to be dominated, too. But in 2004 a long-shot Nova Scotia team skipped by Mark Dacey upset the favored Alberta team in the final, costing Randy Ferbey a five-in-a-row record run.
And the all-timer came at the 1976 Brier hosting in Regina, when overwhelming underdog Jack McDuff won the only Brier title in the history of Newfoundland.
And Glenn Howard makes the point that every once in a while you need a year when it’s not all the usual suspects and the same old show.
“It’s not great to have all the same guys here every year. I want to be one of them, but don’t think it’s a particularly good thing for the Brier if the same teams keep getting back. I think it’s good to see fresh new faces.”
There are 19 of them in the Brier this year, and seven more playing in their second.
But it’s about those four playoff spots in this Howard-vs.-Koe ‘Toontown Showdown.
“Uh, I guess we’re one of the teams fighting for third spot,” said Brad Gushue, who comes here with a name but not necessarily a game.
“In past years we had more expectations,” added the 2006 Olympic gold medal-winning skip, who all of a sudden is at a Brier with none of the members of his gold medal team left in the lineup.
“We’ve got more variables,” said Gushue of moving Ryan Fry up to third and coming here with a rookie lead and second.
“We could be very good. Or we could be very bad.”
That’s it with most of the teams in the field.
It’s that kind of Brier.
Defending champion Manitoba features Rob Fowler’s team, which legitimized themselves by beating defending Brier champion Jeff Stoughton and world tour money leader Mike McEwen to get here. But they didn’t do much on the tour this year.
Fowler has plenty of Brier experience, playing for Stoughton in past years. But this is his first year here as a skip and he has two rookies in the lineup.
“Rob is a really good player,” said Howard.
“He’s perfectly positioned to be a dark horse. He’s capable of beating anybody out here. These guys are good,” said the Ontario skip who has lost the Brier final seven times.
Jim Cotter of B.C. is back for a second year, but he was underwhelming with a 4-7 record last year and has changed his lineup. He did pick up some experience in Rick Folk, the last skip to win a Brier for Saskatchewan back in 1980, but …
Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs, who registered an eight-ender in the provincial Tankard and is making a third straight appearance as a Brier skip, had a decent, if hardly spectacular year, going hard on the tour. Two years ago Jacobs made it to the semifinal, only to regress last year. Put him down as a definite maybe. Or a maybe not.
The one thing that makes Jacobs interesting is he has a team that is different than the other maybes. He hasn’t made changes. His moose men are Brier veterans now.
“I think Northern Ontario is here for the first time in a long time with a contender,” he said.
“I know, because of Howard and Koe we’re not coming in a favourites, but that’s fine with us. We’re all young guys who have been curling together as kids. We have a lot of experience playing with each other and playing at the Brier now.”
Then there’s the rest of the field, which includes a lot of names even the other teams have never heard of before.
“Scott Manners and Jamie Murphy I’ve never seen play at all,” said Howard of the Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia entries.
“I have no idea how good they are. You’d have to think they’re pretty good to win those provinces.”
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