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Team Shuffle 2015: Disrespect for the Brier?

Koe blows up team – before the worlds

By George Karrys

From yellow to purple (with apologies to both)

Okay, the annual team shuffle didn’t really begin today. There have been team lineup changes for next season that have been announced already, with one of the bigger ones ones coming well before the STOH (Team Kelly Scott disbanding) and this one fairly recently.

But today’s triple reveal is a whopper, and for very big reasons.

While watching daughter Carly Howard compete at the Canadian University championships in Regina, Glenn Howard confirmed to the Regina Leader-Post that his longtime second Brent Laing is moving to Alberta, and will compete next year with Team Kevin Koe.

We spilled it on Twitter and there was the expected reaction. But then came word that Kevin Martin‘s longtime front end of Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert, Olympic champions all back in 2010, have split from Martin and joined Team Koe, too.

All of this is big news in any curling year, but this is particularly stunning given a couple of facts.

First off, Team Koe is also Team Canada, newly-crowned Brier champs (Koe, Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen) and soon headed to the worlds in Beijing. Second, thanks to the new Brier (and STOH) format changes, that Team Koe was already pre-qualified for next year’s Brier in Calgary as Team Canada.

If Laing had constituted the only team change, that meant someone else was out, from a Brier championship team, whether he would soon be leaving of his own accord or soon be released. But now, given these seismic changes, the skip of the defending Brier champion team has just forfeited his 2015 Brier berth. In the very first year of the berth taking effect.

Wow.

It’s pretty much unprecedented that news of such team changes are revealed this early, before a squad departs to wear the Maple Leaf at the worlds. It’s also utterly wild to think that numerous players have actually considered – with one now deciding – to give up a confirmed berth in the Brier.

This leaves Simmons, Rycroft and Thiessen with some thinking to do. If they stick together an add a fourth, they keep the Brier’s Team Canada berth, despite the absence of Koe – or so we think?

However, Rycroft has already declared his intention to retire or at least take the 2015 season off from competition – will that now change? Simmons, we know, has maintained a business and residence in Alberta for three years now – does he want to return home to Saskatchewan?

If Koe is willing to take a pass at a Brier berth, how many other high-performance curling athletes are?

Yes. Many are boggled.

This is what we’re getting at. A few years ago, all this would be unthinkable. The Brier was a huge, huge championship curling event – the biggest, bar none, of which every Canadian male curler dreamed about.

Nowadays, and the ongoing Team Koe machinations prove this, the Brier’s primary function – as far as the nation’s top teams are concerned – is merely to provide a qualifying route into the Olympic Trials.

And indeed, 2015 is the (non-Olympic qualifying) season where unusual team moves might be made – such as Koe’s stunning changes… such as John Morris (Brier finalist, and next in line – we assume – to get the Brier berth) either taking the year off or relocating to the B.C. coast (both are rumours, by the way)… and such as Richard Hart returning to play third for Team Howard on a one-year, fun-filled farewell tour (another rumour, folks).

All of this boggles the veteran curling mind. Since when have we seen the legacy of the Brier so – what’s the word we’re looking for – disrespected, however unintentionally this may be intended, by the top high-performance competitors in the land?

And how does this help the Canadian Curling Association challenge various opinions that are swirling about, everything from “relegation sucks” (see the upcoming April issue of The Curling News) to the Association’s present high-performance event focus being a dangerous game (see “Are the Olympics killing curling?” on the cover of our November 2013 issue and also “What the Olympics and Slams have done to Competitive Curling” by Mike Fournier at a later date online)? Not to mention obvious problems within the CCA’s own house, represented by the six-months-and-counting conflict with its Ontario member organization?

Disrespect is, I admit, a pretty strong word, even if couched by “unintentional”, and it’s one the top competitors would never use nor intend to. But the question remains: Is this continuing decline of the Brier brand really the cost of doing business in this 21st century world of curling – a world in which our sport, like many others, is changing at a rapid pace?

Perhaps. But the mind still boggles.

What on earth could be next, lurking ’round the curling corner?

[Composite Laing/Koe image by Gary Darakjian; original Sportsnet images by Anil Mungal]

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Team Shuffle 2015: Disrespect for the Brier?, 4.0 out of 5 based on 29 ratings
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20 Comments »

  1. RustyCurler Said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

    This confirms it. The CCA has destroyed the Brier. Well done fellas. If they give the Team Canada priveleges to the next in line, that will be an even bigger farce. At least put it back into the most horrible event in the sport – the relegation. Throw a bone to the curlers that actually dream for their whole lives for the chance to participate in the most important curling event in their eyes.

    Time for the Brier to decide – is it what it what it was designed to be, an amateur competition between the regions of Canada? Or the 5th Grand Slam that absolutely no one, other that those participating for $$ or points, cares about?

    Ban the WCT I say – they boycotted years ago (which shows how little they cared for it) and the Brier did not suffer – in fact it thrived. Get back to basics, all Canadians want is to watch NS play SK, AB vs ON, etc – we don’t care about Howard vs Koe.

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  2. roseglace Said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 2:54 pm

    i don’t think that the opinion ‘relegation sucks’ can be challenged. it does suck. you can candy-coat it all you want, but it’s relegation (possibly due to the actions of team(s) not even competing) and it sucks.

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  3. Stan Said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

    It’s not unusual for teams to shuffle players, especially after an Olympic cycle. And it was already well known that Carter was retiring for family reasons, regardless of the Brier. The only reason this is a controversy is because of the new Team Canada/relegation format, which is horribly misguided and proving to be a complete farce right out of the gate. The CCA is disrespecting the players and the fans; that’s the only story.

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  4. Karen Said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 4:21 pm

    Have to agree 100% with Rusty Curler….PLEASE let’s get back to the basics and let the Brier be a truly national competition. What the CCA is doing just saddens me. Can anyone see any sense in relegation?

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  5. Tom Shypitka Said,

    March 21, 2014 @ 8:04 pm

    RustyCurler has said it best. I’ve said for quite a while… with the Olympics and the ever changing of residency rules, the Brier will become the 5th slam event. WE MUST KEEP REGIONS SACRED! Nobody that watches the Brier cares about the money stuffing, self-serving “big teams” on tour. I had a great time watching what’s-his-name from Ontario playing in the biggest event of his life…. and he did great! I want BC vs PEI or NWT vs Northern Ontario. If I want to watch a slam then I can, 4 times a year. Leave the Brier as is and promote it as the biggest and greatest amateur event in the world!

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  6. Paul Said,

    March 22, 2014 @ 1:40 pm

    This may not matter at all. Just because the team is blowing up for the tour doesn’t mean that they can’t get back together for the Brier. They get a free trip to Calgary and $15,000 minimum just for showing up. Even if they don’t curl together all year, they are still going to be good from curling together for years prior.

    Teams like to be together for the three years leading up to the Olympics so it makes sense that they would make some decisions now when the season is winding down. This isn’t the only team that is changing, but as they are the only ones still active in the playdown trail, we are focussing on them. We can’t expect them to stay together for one event when the bigger prize is a gold medal is what they are looking for.

    Maybe, just maybe, the CCA will start to think about curling again and not the big events. It’s quickly becoming a dying sport and they choose to bury their heads in the sand and ignore the problem.

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  7. Bryan Said,

    March 22, 2014 @ 1:44 pm

    I don’t think that making the Brier more of an amateur event is the right move… if you get a chance read Noel Thiessen’s view of it; I couldn’t find the link but it really breaks down the current landscape of curling in this country. Like it or not curling is now a high performance sport and you can see it in the way the top curlers’ bodies have changed from the 80’s and 90’s where there were a lot more average joes to today’s hefty lads on the front end. The biggest obstacle in today’s game is getting from being a very good team to a great team I think you see that in a team like Balsdon out of Ontario this past year, they were a very good team capable of beating the top teams but just didn’t have the repertoire of shots in their arsenal to win the big games unfortunately.

    I think the Dominion curling championship is a good answer to the past Brier as a national competition for curlers meant strictly for amateurs. The landscape of high performance sport in Canada has changed with Own the Podium providing a great deal of support to the top teams not much for those just below them. I think the more curling on television we see the better but can see how events like the Continental Cup or even the Skins game again provide support for the top teams and not to in some cases the up and comers. I’m not a huge fan of relegation but it does provide some intrigue… in some ways I wish it was changed from evaluating teams in terms of three year cycles to be reflective of the most recent season so as to add some drama to the final few draws of the Brier. It’s hard to justify giving each territory a team but based on results you could say the same thing about three of the maritime provinces (NB, NS and PEI) who haven’t been competitive in years. Curling as a game has changed which is why we don’t use cornbrooms any more

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  8. Spare Said,

    March 22, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

    How was the previous system more of a national event than before?
    NWT and YK played off for one spot, and Nunavut had no means to get to the Brier.

    Not that I am a fan of the new relegation system, but I think this is a huge slap in the face to fans to blow up your team as team canada.

    I’m sure there are more than a few Calgary Brier oganizers who feel the same way.

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  9. Kelly Said,

    March 22, 2014 @ 4:27 pm

    I don’t see Koe’s move as disrespecting the Brier, but rather the exact opposite. “We want to win our way back, not back door as Team Canada, a concept that so few in the men’s ranks saw as being necessary / relevant / helpful.”

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  10. Spare Said,

    March 22, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

    Also, Ontario is already sending two teams to the Brier, so it’s hardly a ‘true’ national competition.

    Can someone confirm something: I was under the impression that the member associations (i.e. SCA, MCA, OCA, etc) are the ones who vote on proposed changes. If that is true, all this anger needs to be directed back to our associations for agreeing to these changes, not just the CCA for implementing them

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  11. CCA is Corrupt Said,

    March 23, 2014 @ 7:31 pm

    The CCA needs to be blown up… they do what they want and cater to the few… the Brier is nothing more than a slam event now. How did they get the votes… easy… they bought them. Follow the money trail… see who moves up the ladder…. see who gets the trips and the perks. The Brier isn’t broken, but the CCA sure is.

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  12. Curious Said,

    March 24, 2014 @ 3:32 pm

    Anyone else think it was a bad idea for the CCA to pick the year after the Olympic cycle to start the Team Canada concept at the Brier? They had to know that they would end up with a champion who didn’t make the Olympics. And let’s face it – that’s what the top teams play for. This year the Brier was secondary, just as it is during any Olympic year, and there was always going to be a very high risk that the Brier winners would break up. It can’t be considered surprising.

    I also disagree with the author’s use of the word “disrespectful” towards the Brier. If Team Koe stuck together simply for the Brier, they’re passing up the free agent market and the ability to fully prepare for the next 4 year cycle. And does the CCA really want a lame duck Team Canada anyways? If they’re ready to split now, imagine where the team chemistry would be at a year from now. I would argue that it would be disrespectful to stick together just for the free Brier trip, only to show up as a team in disarray who don’t want to be together.

    In any case, I’m legitimately curious about how the CCA will deal with this for the 2015 Brier. If the remaining group of Simmons, Rycroft, and Theissen do not stick together, how do they pick a Team Canada? Would they lower their threshold for remaining team members (all the way down to one, perhaps)? Will they eliminate the team altogether?

    It’s a real mess, no matter how you look at it. But hey, here’s a bright little scenario – if there’s NO Team Canada, and if no team from Nunavut declares an intention to go to the Brier (which I consider likely given the cost of travel combined with low likelihood of success), then maybe we don’t need relegation this year after all. Maybe that will be the blessing in disguise here, giving everyone another year to think of something a little better.

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  13. Top Cat Said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 10:06 am

    Warren Hansen talks about allowing one out of province player per team????? No one watches the slams, no one cares WHO is at the Brier, they just want to watch all the provinces compete for the Canadian championships. Joe Blow from Manitoba vs Jim Blow from Ontario in the Brier final would be as well received as Stoughton vs Howard. If “top level” players feel they would rather quit then curl with “sub-par players” in their province, then they should quit.

    STOP CATERING TO THE FEW, YOU ARE DESTROYING THE FABRIC OF THE GAME. Selling the soul of the game is not the way to stay on top. Participation numbers are way down everywhere. Shouldn’t the focus should be on growing the game, instead of having a few professional teams and the heck with everyone else. Our model will look like that of the Asian countries in 10 to 15 years if this trend continues. No one playing but a few, less curling clubs, less viewership and sponsors = less money for the CCA.

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  14. FcurlerG Said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 2:23 pm

    Stop giving all the money to the same damn teams with big restrictive and boring events!!!
    We don’t care about skins game, continental cup and Slams… bring back our classic Brier!!!

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  15. Peter Said,

    March 25, 2014 @ 9:10 pm

    To all the people saying the sky is falling, please, calm down. The Brier is not and will never be “the 5th Grand Slam”. It will always be province against province and nothing that has happened has changed that.

    I am neither for or against relegation (I am for a team Canada at the Brier), but if you never cared that Nunavut didn’t have a team or that both territories weren’t represented at the Brier, than you can’t suddenly complain that some parts of the country aren’t represented.

    Do people really think that the ratings for next year’s Brier and Scotties will decline? I don’t. We’ll see.

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  16. CoRo77 Said,

    March 30, 2014 @ 8:46 am

    Why can’t there simply be 14 team? One from every province and territory and team Canada. Why does Ontario get two in mens curling? If it means not seeing either Jacobs or Howard then so be it. Yes it would be a shame but Alberta has had to deal with that for years with Martin and Koe, and before that Ferbey

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  17. Neil Said,

    April 3, 2014 @ 5:18 pm

    If you need team Canada and both territories then why not go back to five (5) sheets of ice and simply make it a 14-team round robin and page playoffs as it is. No big deal, couple of extra games. Years ago played 12-end games and often with corn brooms. These guys can handle a couple of extra games and could still be over the same time frame.

    Relegation makes no sense and loses the true spirit of the Brier as being a true national championship. It ensures that young curlers in all provinces and territories have a chance to play in this on a yearly basis. I think we should write Warren Hansen on this and put pressure on the CCA.

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  18. Little Timmy Said,

    April 7, 2014 @ 2:31 am

    How bout Koe’s disrespect for Simmons? Bring in a guy who has never skipped or played 3rd to replace him? I don’t think that “all-star” team is going to work out. Koe really is a one dimensional hitting machine and those guys are going to argue a lot amongst themselves when they discover Koe can’t do strategy worth a lick and doesn’t possess much leadership.

    I wonder if Gushue will do something. His young 3rd really lacks confidence.

    Have to wonder about Mike Mcewen team too. Gone stale.

    I think the problem with the brier is that you see the same amateur teams year after year as well (gratton in nb, koe in NWT, menard quebec, etc) so whats the point.

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  19. Stuntman Said,

    April 7, 2014 @ 5:28 am

    Not sure what the big appeal about Koe is supposed to be. He’s not exactly a great thinker of the game. I guess more rule changes are in the works to further turn the game into pinball thus a hitting machine at skip is useful.

    Geez, and bringing in a second to play 3rd? There is some disrespect from Koe… towards Pat Simmons that is. I mean Simmons isn’t much of shotmaker but at least he could call line pretty well. Have to wonder if Rycroft got the boot and is just saving face with some fake retirement story. Wouldn’t surprise me to see him playing next year.

    I guess if Howard is on a retirement farewell tour next year… his son may as well play 2nd to replace Laing. That leaves Craig Savill in limbo.

    I bet the lovely lady, Alison K, playing for the overrated Homan probably got the boot too. Not enough strength in those frail arms of hers to cover up the frequent gaffes of Miskew. No surprise that the strongest sweeper in the country was added only moments later.

    Have to wonder what Gushue is thinking these days about his nervous young 3rd with all the movement of experienced players going on. He must be still flabbergasted that Ryan Fry would become a top 3rd in the country.

    Team Mike McEwen sure had an ordinary year. Will it ever happen for this team?

    It might be possible for Martin to lure Jon Mead away from Stoughton. The dreadful David Nedohin was a terrible pick by Martin who played very well last year.

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  20. Stuntman Said,

    April 7, 2014 @ 5:51 am

    There should be an age limit in curling. It’s a joke that some of these guys are hanging around past 50 years of age.

    This sport needs more leadership from statesmen like Gushue, and less Martins, Howards, and Stoughtons who only want support from corporate sponsors.

    Why bother with the farce called the world championships. The euros aren’t bringing anything to the table. The Canada cup is a dumb event too. They are just leaching off our dwindling fan support while destroying our youth development. Send them packing. Nobody gives a crap about Thomas whathisface and his stupid pajamas.

    Curling and casinos. Way to destroy the integrity of the sport guys.

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