July 16th, 2024

Brier playoffs feature big names and underdog Jamie Koe of Northwest Territories

By Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press on March 7, 2024.

Manitoba-Carruthers third Reid Carruthers delivers a rock while playing Yukon during the Brier, in Regina, Thursday, March 7, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

REGINA – A Koe made the playoffs at the Canadian men’s curling championship and it wasn’t four-time champion Kevin.

Younger brother Jamie skipped a territories team to the Brier playoffs for just the second time in his 17 appearances and first since 2012 by stealing a point in an extra end in a 9-8 win over Prince Edward Island’s Tyler Smith on Thursday.

Smith was attempting to lead P.E.I. into the playoffs for the first time in 28 years. His draw in the 10th end to get to the button wrecked on his own stones above the tee line to give up the steal.

So Northwest Territories (5-3) vaulted over P.E.I. into the final playoff berth in their pool to join Saskatchewan’s Mike McEwen (7-1) and defending champion Brad Gushue (6-2).

“It’s just wild,” said a wet-eyed Koe. “Our fans came down to see us right after. Everyone was crying and got me going. Dad’s crying.”

Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers (7-1) and Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher (6-2) and Manitoba’s Matt Dunstone (6-2) emerged from Pool A.

While P.E.I.’s Smith and Northern Ontario’s Trevor Bonot were among their pool’s leaders early in the tournament, the Brier’s playoffs feature five of the tournament’s top six seeds and the 15th-seeded Jamie Koe.

Northern teams are at a competitive disadvantage to their southern counterparts because of a smaller player pool, as well as the extra time and money needed to travel and play tour events.

“Everyone else probably has won 200 games and we maybe have 20,” Koe said.

The Koe name is synonymous with N.W.T. curling as Jamie’s twin sister Kerry has skipped the territory at the national women’s curling championship 17 times.

Older brother Kevin has been the more successful curler. Kevin skipped Albertan teams to four Canadian championships and two world titles, as well as reaching the Brier playoffs in all but one of his 11 previous appearances.

But Kevin had a grim outing in Regina and finished with a worse record than Jamie for the first time at 2-6.

“It’s unbelievable, that,” Jamie said. “Never really thought of that, but seeing the week they’re going through, they’re pretty demoralized. It’s our moment. We’re going to take it.”

McEwen meets Bottcher and Gushue faces Carruthers on Friday afternoon. The winners head to Saturday’s Page playoff game that sends the victor to the final and the loser to the semifinal Sunday.

Friday afternoon’s losers play again in the evening against third seeds Koe and Dunstone. Those winners advance to Saturday’s Page playoff that determines Sunday’s other semifinalist.

Sunday’s winner represents Canada at the men’s world championship March 30 to April 7 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and returns to the 2025 Montana’s Brier in Kelowna, B.C., as defending champion.

“Whoever gets hot on the final weekend is going to walk away here a champion, and I don’t see a reason why that can’t be us,” Bottcher said.

Carruthers, whose team is skipped by Brad Jacobs, doubled top-seeded Bottcher 6-3 in the evening draw to earn their pool’s top seed.

“I think that was the best team game that we’ve put together so far at the Brier, so that makes me excited and happy,” Jacobs said.

Jamie Koe went 7-4 in Saskatoon in 2012 to reach the final four. He lost to Kevin in the Page three-four playoff game.

His current Yellowknife Curling Club foursome of Glen Kennedy, Cole Parsons and Shadrach McLeod shrugged off their underdog status, and a two-loss Wednesday, to each the tournament’s final six.

“It’s just wild, right? You looked at the pools when we got here and you think ‘can you actually make the playoffs here?'” Koe said. “Now that we actually did it, it’s kind of a surreal moment.”

Kennedy is the brother of Bottcher’s third Marc Kennedy. Glen is the Koe’s import player from Alberta, who wasn’t able to compete in territorial playdowns because of a hip injury.

“I’m so happy for Jamie and the guys, I’m so happy for Yellowknife, for N.W.T. in general,” Kennedy said. “It’s such a great feeling to show the world what this team can do.

“It’s just nice to see what that kind of bottom of the half of the Brier is capable of and you’re totally seeing it this week.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 7, 2024.

Note to readers: Corrects Matt Dunstone’s record in sixth paragraph to 5-2 from previous versions of this story with 6-1.

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