By his own admission, it hasn’t been a great curling season for Vernon’s Jim Cotter.
He and his rink, which includes longtime friend and teammate Rick Sawatsky, Steve Laycock, team rookie Andrew Nerpin and fifth player Brad Wood, have struggled at times.
They did finish second at cashspiels in Vernon and Penticton, and were third at a cash event in Kelowna. But they didn’t qualify for the playoffs and win any cash at four other events.
Then came the provincial playdowns in Cranbrook, everything clicked and recent failures were forgotten as Cotter and Sawatsky put their names into the B.C. Men’s Curling record books with their ninth provincial Purple Heart win, the most of any male curlers in B.C. history.
The Vernon pair and Laycock will be making a ninth Tim Hortons Brier appearance (Laycock has two with Cotter and seven more in Saskatchewan), starting Saturday, Feb. 29, in Kingston, Ont. Nerpin, from Kelowna, will be playing in his second national championship.
“It sure doesn’t get old representing the province at the Brier,” said Cotter prior to leaving Thursday for Kingston. “But I’m super proud of the guys. It hasn’t been one of our best seasons. But we stuck with the program and worked together as a team.
“Swat (Sawatsky) and I have curled together for a long time, been teammates for many years, so to set a provincial record with him is pretty special.”
Cotter has won eight of the last 10 provincial men’s titles and made it to the Brier final in 2014 in his hometown of Kamloops, losing to Kevin Koe of Calgary.
As luck would have it, Koe is back at the Brier in Kingston as the defending champ. He will be seeking a record fifth Brier championship and is the same eight-team pool as Cotter. The pair meet in the final preliminary draw on Wednesday, March 4.
Cotter will open Saturday against Koe’s brother, Jamie, of the Northwest Territories.
His pool also includes world No. 2-ranked John Epping of Toronto (whose fifth player, John Morris, is Cotter’s former teammate from the 2014 and 2017 BC championships), the winner of Friday’s wild-card play-in between Glenn Howard of Penetanguishene, Ont., and Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen, Saskatchewan, skipped by Matt Dunstone of Regina, whose lineup includes former Cotter member Catlin Schneider, New Brunswick (James Grattan, Oromocto) and the Yukon (Thomas Scoffin, Whitehorse).
The top four teams advance from the first round carrying their records over to play the four qualifiers from the other pool (includes the likes of Brad Gushue, Brad Jacobs, Brendan Bottcher and Manitoba’s Jason Gunnlaugson, whose roster includes former Vernon resident Garry Van Den Berghe as fifth player/coach). The top four rinks will then advance to the playoffs, based on the best won-loss records.
“Both pools are going to be tough,” said Cotter. “It seems like we say it every year now, that it’s the best Brier field ever. We will focus on the process, make our shots and try to combine some wins in a row.”