Everything is in place for another attendance record as an experienced Brier field will take to the ice Saturday afternoon at Rexall Place in Edmonton for the Tim Hortons Brier. The field is headlined by past Brier Champions, World Champions and Olympic Champions. Of all of those, there are three teams as the favorites to hoist the Tankard March 10th.
The favorites also happen to be the only teams with berths into the 2013 Olympic Trials - Kevin Martin, Jeff Stoughton and Glenn Howard. Kevin Martin will be the favorite, playing in his backyard as the hometown skip looking to win his third Brier title in Alberta. His prior two titles came in 1997 and 2009 in Calgary. Martin’s rink is the reigning Olympic Champions and have their eyes set on a Brier title before looking to qualify for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
It will be interesting to see how they handle the extra pressure as one of the favorites playing as the home province. They will have the majority of the crowd on their game when in action. If Martin isn’t around come playoff time, it will be a major surprise.
This can also be said for Martin’s rivals and defending Brier Champions, Glenn Howard who are trying to be the first Ontario team to win back to back Briers. Of note with Martin and Howard, both skips will have their sons as part of the event as they will be the team’s fifth players.
Stoughton will try to battle Martin and Howard for the Brier title, with the Manitoba champions coming in under the radar compared to the Ontario and Alberta teams. Manitoba won the Canada Cup earlier this year to get into the Olympic trials. The addition of Mark Nichols at lead has been seamless as the team has had a very successful season so far with two wins on the World Curling Tour, including a Grand Slam event.
I believe that the Brier will be determined between those three teams, but there would be one team that could get hot and they come from Northern Ontario. Brad Jacobs and his team will try to improve on a bronze medal in 2010. They have added Ryan Fry at third and he will be representing his third different province, previously playing for Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador, and his experience could help them to be the fourth seed in the playoffs.
Of note, the last time the Brier was held in Edmonton, Nova Scotia’s Shawn Adams made the final losing to Alberta’s Randy Ferbey. The third for Adams was Paul Flemming who skips the blue nosers this year. He has the experience and could upset a few teams, but I don’t think he has the lineup to make a run for the title.
As well, Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard has won this before but has not fared well since winning in 2006. His first time skipping at the Brier was in Edmonton in 2005 the year before capturing the Canadian title. Since winning, he has failed to make the playoffs with his closest effort making a tiebreaker in 2009. If Menard gets on a roll they could make a push for the fourth playoff spot.
This Brier field is full of experienced skips and only has two rookie Brier skips. Out of BC, Andrew Bilesky will play at his first Canadian Championship along with Brock Virtue of Saskatchewan. Of the two, Virtue will likely have more success. Before playing in Saskatchewan this year, he had competed out of Alberta against the likes of Koe and Martin.
In the end, my pick to win it all will be Jeff Stoughton coming out on top defeating Kevin Martin in the final. Stoughton’s move to add Nichols at lead will pay off and would give Stoughton his fourth Brier championship and second in Edmonton, winning in 1999. Check in throughout the week as I will have more analysis as the Brier plays out.