The first thing Vernon curler Jim Cotter did when he found out he was officially going to his 10th Tim Hortons Brier Canadian Men’s Curling Championship was check to see who had practice ice available.
Cotter and rinkmates Steve Laycock of Saskatoon, and the Kelowna front end of Andrew Nerpin and Vernon native Rick Sawatsky will represent B.C. March 6-14 at the Markin MacPhail Centre in Calgary. This came after Curl BC made the decision Jan. 7 to cancel the B.C. Men’s and Women’s Championships, slated for Cotter’s hometown of Kamloops Jan. 26-31 at the McArthur Island Sports Centre, in light of the provincial health order issued that day regarding COVID-19 protocols.
Curl BC declared that the 2020 provincial champions would represent the province at the 2021 nationals – the Brier and the Scotties Tournament of Hearts – both slated for the hub city of Calgary.
“The men’s provincials were going to be an open tournament, anybody could have entered,” said Cotter, 46. “I think there were 16 teams entered on the women’s side and 15 on the men’s.
“My biggest concern when we found out about the cancellation was to make sure we could get practice ice. The provincial health order extended to Feb. 5 so some curling clubs were looking at closing. I’ve got to send a huge thank you to the Vernon Curling Club, the board and (manager) Dave Merklinger for keeping the ice. In some communities, there is no curling going on.”
Said Scott Braley, chief executive officer of Curl BC: “The safety of our athletes and volunteers is a top priority. We were hopeful that all the efforts to bend the curve would lead to fewer cases of COVID-19 in the province and more opportunities for people to compete. However, the numbers are still much higher than anyone wants – and it will be difficult for clubs to stay open – so the best course of action is to cancel.”
Cotter said with Laycock in Saskatoon, he’s unlikely able to travel to practice with his teammates before Jan. 15. Cotter, Sawatsky and Nerpin are carded athletes in B.C. which means they are allowed, under rules of the provincial health office and ViaSport B.C., to travel within the province.
“Between now and the Brier, we’ll be throwing rocks every single day, the Vernon Curling Club is open for that,” said Cotter. “Once we find out about Steve’s ability to travel, we’ll ideally do some camps before the Brier. Andrew, Swat (Sawatsky) and I will probably get together because we can as carded athletes.”
For Cotter, Sawatsky and Laycock, the Calgary Brier will be the 10th national championship tournament for each, all three looking for that elusive national title. Nerpin will be in his third Brier.
If not for COVID, and had Cotter and Sawatsky won a ninth provincial title in 11 years, it would have been in Cotter’s hometown. He lost the 2014 Brier final to Kevin Koe of Calgary in front of a partisan, capacity crowd in Kamloops. A hometown win this month would have propelled the B.C. champs down Highway 97 to Kelowna, which was scheduled to host the 2021 Brier. Curling Canada announced Dec. 1 that all 2021 Season of Champions events would be in a hub city, Calgary.
“All four of us were super excited to play the B.C.’s in Kamloops, where I grew up, and if we’d won there, the Brier was in Kelowna where two of the guys live,” said Cotter. “It’s definitely a little disappointing.”
And for the first time, the Brier will be played without its raucous, knowledgable sportsman-like fans who applaud great shots no matter who throws them.
“It will be different,” laughed Cotter, who went 2-5 at the 2020 Brier in Kingston, Ont., eliminated from playoff contention.
Curlers will be tested three times for COVID-19 prior to the Brier starting.
Lethbridge has been awarded the 2022 Brier. Kelowna is expected to bid on the 2023 tournament.
Corryn Brown of Kamloops is the 2020 B.C. women’s champ who will represent the province at the Scotties in Calgary.