NELSON – Jim Cotter felt the target on his back. Maybe that’s why he looked invincible.
The Vernon skip defeated New Westminster’s Sean Geall 7-6 Sunday to capture the Canadian Direct Insurance B.C. Men’s Curling Championship after having finished undefeated at the Nelson Curling Club.
The title is the sixth of Cotter’s career. He’ll be joined by third Ryan Kuhn, second Tyrel Griffith, lead Rick Sawatsky and coach Pat Ryan as the Vernon-Kelowna rink competes for the national title at the Tim Hortons Brier March 5-13 in Ottawa.
Cotter, who had already defeated Geall in Saturday’s Page 1-2 playoff, didn’t take victory for granted despite rolling through the 16-team event.
“We know that that team is coming hard at us,” said Cotter. “They’re great guys and fabulous curlers, so we knew we were in tough. All week we’ve had teams coming at us pretty hard and we just knew we had to continue to make good shots and hope for the best.”
Swagger isn’t Cotter’s style. He repeatedly deferred credit to his team and said he never expected an easy championship, even if that’s what it was.
“We just concentrate on process and stay within our own team armour and just try to make shots and support each other along the way,” he said.
Cotter’s rink is now a dynasty in B.C. curling and has often been on the edge of greatness without ever having represented Canada. He won silver at the 2014 Brier and was runner-up at the Canadian Olympic trials in 2013.
In B.C., Cotter has won five of the last six provincial titles, including the last three, amassing a record of 18-1 from 2014-2016.
“We just focus on the here and now,” said Cotter. “We don’t think about yesterday or tomorrow. These are great guys, we’re great teammates and friends on and off the ice. It goes a long way.”
Cotter and Sawatsky will be appearing in their fourth Brier, Griffith his fourth and Kuhn goes back to the national championship for a second time.
“It’s huge,” said Kuhn. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and I am really looking forward to it, as I did last year. The experience over the last year will definitely help at this year’s Brier.”
Geall, the 2009 champion, had an eventful week. He arrived a day late to the tournament after his wife gave birth to a daughter Tuesday.
“I’m going to get home as fast as I can,” he said.
Still, the New Westminster rink were the clear No. 2 side of the event. Geall’s team finished 5-1 in the round-robin before losing to Cotter in the playoff and beating Dean Joanisse 4-2 in Sunday’s semifinal to earn a rematch against the eventual champions.
“(Team Cotter are) very good. You have to play well to beat them every time,” said Geall.
“They’re one of the elite teams in the world. Did I think we could win? Obviously, yeah, we had as good a chance as anyone. But you have to be on your game, and when you play like we did in the first of the game, it’s going to make the second half an uphill battle and it was.”
After a scoreless first end, Cotter scored one in the second and stole another in the third.
In the fourth, Cotter curled inside the button and Geall failed to follow suit with the same throw. That allowed Cotter to throw a guard with his last stone and steal another point for a 3-0 lead when Geall split two guards.
Geall had two stones on the button that Kuhn knocked out with a statement takeout in the fifth end, which drew a loud cheer from the crowd.
Third Andrew Bilesky followed with a heavy shot that went right through the house, one of several early throws that didn’t pan out. However, Geall held the hammer during the end and had a clear path to his first point.
Cotter had to navigate a difficult shot in the sixth. Geall had a stone on the button guarded by a Cotter rock. Cotter tried to curl around the guard and knock his way into the button, but the throw wasn’t heavy enough and barely nudged Geall.
After a timeout with plenty of options, Geall opted to protect his shot stone instead of going for two. But Cotter made no mistake this time, curling another beautiful shot that nudged Geall off the button for a 4-1 lead.
But Geall came back in the seventh. Cotter failed a double-peel attempt and Geall made him pay with an easy shot that scored him a deuce and cut the deficit to 4-3.
The comeback died one end later after Geall made a critical error. He had a chance to guard shot stone but his throw was a hair too heavy and the rock slid in right to the top of the button. Cotter pounced with three-point throw that put him back up 7-3.
Geall scored another deuce in the ninth and stole one more in the 10th.
The No. 2 (Alberta’s Kevin Koe), No. 3 (Manitoba’s Mike McEwen), No. 7 (Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs) and No. 11 (Cotter) on the Canadian Team Ranking System all booked trips to Ottawa with provincial victories Sunday.
They join a field already was power-packed with the likes of three-time defending champion Pat Simmons and Team Canada, the top-ranked CTRS team, Brad Gushue of Newfoundland/Labrador, four-time world champ Glenn Howard of Ontario, 2006 Brier champ Jean-Michel Ménard of Quebec and Steve Laycock of Saskatchewan.
Also headed to Ottawa are New Brunswick’s Mike Kennedy, Nova Scotia’s Jamie Murphy, P.E.I.’s Adam Casey, the Yukon’s Bob Smallwood, the Northwest Territories’ Jamie Koe and Nunavut’s Wade Kingdon.