Friday at the Tim Hortons Brier in Kamloops started and ended as a day of anticipation for John Morris’ Vernon/Kelowna foursome.
The B.C. champs – Morris, Vernon’s Jim Cotter (who throws skip stones) and Rick Sawatsky, and Kelowna’s Tyrel Griffith – began Friday at the Canadian men’s curling championship hoping for some help to get into the one-versus-two page playoff game, and got it.
They ended the day in front of a packed, partisan crowd at the Interior Savings Centre waiting to see who they’ll face in today’s final at 4:30 p.m. (on TSN).
Morris’ quartet advanced to the championship with a resounding 9-5 win over Alberta’s Kevin Koe Friday night, thanks in part to some stellar shotmaking – as he’s done throughout the week – by Cotter, playing in his fifth Brier and in his hometown.
“I’ve never been in a Brier final myself, so I think we’re still just soaking it in right now,” said Cotter. “It means a lot.”
The game was never in doubt for B.C., which led from the outset. Each time Koe’s rink managed to tear the momentum away from Cotter and Co., the B.C. boys were equal to the task.
“It’s one of those games,” said Koe. “He made some good shots, for sure. I mean, he’s been doing that all week. It’s not really too much of a surprise.”
Added Cotter: “They made a lot of great shots and were pouring it on. We were managing to make that big shot back, which you have to do. All of these are great teams and the Koe team is a phenomenal team – we know we’ve got to make all our shots to beat them.”
Cotter’s rink out-curled Koe’s foursome 91 to 85 per cent, highlighted by Griffith’s 97 per cent efficiency. Cotter outdueled Koe 86 to 83 per cent in a battle of the men who throw skip stones.
For the Kamloops-born Cotter, it was a special night, and not just because his play was incredible. More than 4,300 fans were in attendance for the playoff game, with the B.C. chants exploding each time Cotter made a shot.
“Jimmy made a couple real good highlight-reel shots and there was just a great buzz in there tonight,” said Morris. “That’s the most packed house we’ve seen all week and Jimmy being the hometown, the Kamloops boy, there’s just such a great vibe in there. It’s something that was pretty special to be a part of.”
B.C. got its first pair in the first, with Cotter drawing in with his final stone after Koe was heavy with a draw and ended up at the back of the eight-foot.
In the second, B.C. added a steal of one, with Cotter throwing a near-perfect draw, in behind cover, with his final stone. Koe attempted to follow the same path, but came up an inch shorter, rubbing Cotter’s stone on the way by to fall behind by three.
Cotter’s final rock in three forced Alberta to settle for a single, as Koe faced four opposition stones on his last shot.
Cotter’s incredible night continued in the fourth, with a raise double takeout that sent the crowd into a frenzy and left B.C. sitting three. After Koe threw a draw that ended up at the top of the button, Cotter made another runback, removing Koe’s stone to go ahead 6-1.
Koe showed some life in the fifth, scoring a deuce to bring Alberta within three, but after removing only two of three stones on a triple takeout attempt in six, Cotter made an open draw for a pair of his own and an 8-3 lead.
In seven, Koe made a double takeout with his last stone, but his shooter rolled out and he was forced to settle for a single.
He managed to steal a single in eight and put the pressure on Cotter with a hit and roll to the button off a rock in the 12-foot, but Cotter drew to the button for a single and sealed the victory.
Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard’s 7-5 victory over Koe in the final round-robin draw Friday morning left Koe, Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton and Morris tied for first place at 9-2.
“Got a little fortunate this morning, had some help from la belle province, our friends in la belle province. Merci beaucoup,” Morris said with a smile. “We’re starting to really come together as a team here and it’s really great to see.”
Each of B.C., Alberta and Manitoba held a tiebreaker over one of the others, so seeding for the playoffs came down to cumulative distance from the button in pre-game draws throughout the week, in which B.C. and Alberta led Manitoba.
Menard, at 7-4, clinched the fourth and final playoff spot. He played Stoughton Saturday morning with the winner advancing to face Koe later Saturday in the semifinal.
The semi winner meets Morris in today’s final.
Morris will be seeking his third Brier title, while Cotter, Sawatsky and Griffith look for their first, and the first for B.C. since New Westminster’s Greg McAulay won in 2000.
The B.C. rink finished round-robin play Thursday night with a 6-3 win over Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock.
n Vernon’s Sonja Gaudet and Armstrong’s Ina Forrest helped Canada win its first two games in defence of its gold medal in wheelchair curling at the Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.
The North Okanagan women, who won gold together in Vancouver four years ago, helped skip Jim Armstrong and third Dennis Thiessen of Manitoba beat Great Britain 9-6 and Russia 5-4 in their opening two games Saturday.
Canada will play a 10-country round-robin with the top four teams advancing to the playoffs.
—with files from Kamloops This Week.