He celebrated his 43rd birthday Tuesday playing in a men’s league curling match.
As he came off the ice, Vernon’s Rick Sawatsky saw his beloved Montreal Canadiens had beaten the Detroit Red Wings 8-1, just two days before he heads to his eighth Tim Hortons Brier Canadian Men’s Curling Championship in Brandon, and he was all smiles.
Eight goals, eight Briers. Coincidence? Superstitious?
“Naw, not really, but we can go with that narrative if you want,” laughed Sawatsky, lead for Vernon’s Jim Cotter rink, which begins play Saturday at the national finals. Sawatsky, Cotter and first-year third Steve Laycock are all going to the Brier for the eighth time. Second Tyrel Griffith of Kelowna will be appearing in his sixth and fifth-man Brad Wood of Penticton is going to his second straight Brier. He was fifth for Sean Geall last year.
“We have the experience, the guys who know how to make the shots. We’ve been putting in a lot of work lately. Haven’t played a whole lot this year, which is kind of nice for us, but the last couple of months we’ve put in the work to dial in and the results are starting to pay off. We’re excited to get out there and start playing.”
The B.C. champs won the provincial purple heart in Quesnel, going 5-0 to win the championship for the fifth time in six years (Laycock won seven provincial titles in Saskatchewan before joining the Cotter rink this season).
For all but Laycock and Wood, the Brandon Brier will be the first with the new two-pool format. There are two groups of eight rinks. Teams play all the rinks in their pool with the top four advancing to a crossover round in which they take their preliminary round record and play the top four teams from the other pool.
The top four teams after the crossover round advance to the page playoffs (one vs two, three vs four, winner of one-two gets bye into final. Loser plays winner of three-four, loser of three-four is out).
Laycock advanced out of the pool round in 2018 but did not make the playoffs. Wood and Geall did not qualify for the crossover at 2-5.
Cotter opens Saturday against Nova Scotia’s Stuart Thompson of Dartmouth. Also in his pool are defending champion Brad Gushue and Team Canada from Newfoundland/Labrador, Brier veteran Jamie Koe of Yellowknife, and Koe’s brother, Kevin, representing Alberta, the man who beat Cotter in the 2014 Brier final in Cotter’s hometown of Kamloops.
“Over the years, it seems every Brier field is a phenomenal field, that’s what you expect,” said Cotter, 44. “This year is no different. It’s a different format so you want to make sure you get off to a good start. The teams are all good, it doesn’t matter who you play, you have to bring your best every game. In curling, you want to get hot at the right time, and you need a couple of breaks.
“The key for us is to get off to a good start.”
Besides not playing much in 2018-19, what’s also helped Cotter and company is the addition of Saskatoon’s Laycock, a former Canadian and World junior champion, whose best Brier finish was a 2008 semifinal loss.
“Adding Steve has been huge,” said Sawatsky. “Having a guy who can play at that level in that atmosphere with the crowd, the TV is huge. He’s played at every level. He’s a smart, analytical guy, great shotmaker, consistent player, a steady presence that you need at the third position, and he’s just a great guy. He’s been a tremendous fit.”
Ever since he was a pre-teen throwing rocks at the Kamloops Curling Club, Cotter – and his teammates – have all envisioned throwing a rock for the national championship. That feeling still remains.
“Going to a Brier never gets old,” said Cotter. “To go to a Brier is something special. Our goal is to put ourselves in a position to win it. We’ve been to a lot of them, we have the experience. It’s been a childhood dream to win a Brier so we’re definitely going to do everything possible to make it happen.”
COTTER SCHEDULE AT BRIER
Saturday, March 2, vs Nova Scotia (Stuart Thompson, Dartmouth);
Sunday, March 3, vs Nunavut (Dave St. Louis, Iqaluit);
Monday, March 4, vs New Brunswick (Terry Odishaw, Moncton); vs Team Canada (Brad Gushue, Newfoundland/Labrador);
Tuesday, March 5, vs Alberta (Kevin Koe, Calgary);
Wednesday, March 6, vs Northwest Territories (Jamie Koe, Yellowknife); vs Ontario (Scott McDonald, Kingston).