CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Excuse Eddie MacKenzie if he’s been there, done that, when it comes to the Tim Hortons Brier.
MacKenzie’s been to the Canadian men’s curling championship six times, but forgive him also if it never gets boring.
“It’s the biggest … curling event. I’m old school, to me the Brier’s the best,” said MacKenzie, adding other things can hamper the fun he used to have but that’s life. “It’s difficult these days with other things on the go, but it’s always pretty exciting.”
MacKenzie, the two-time defending P.E.I. champ, skips a group that includes lead Sean Ledgerwood, second Chris Gallant and third Josh Barry. The alternate is Robbie Younker and coach is Phil Gorveatt. They play out of the Charlottetown Curling Complex.
The on-ice stuff starts today when MacKenzie tangles with the Manitoba rink skipped by Reid Carruthers at 4 p.m. Atlantic.
The Brier brings together the best 16 teams in Canada. This year features a new two-pool, eight-team-per-pool system for the round robin. The teams compete in their respective pools and the top four from each pool moves on to the championship pool.
Each teams’ 11 games will count towards determining the top four teams that advance to the Page playoffs. Those and tie breakers, if necessary, go Saturday. Semifinals and the final goes Sunday. The bronze medal game has been eliminated.
For Ledgerwood, it’s changes like the pool system that help keep the Brier fresh. It’s Ledgerwood’s fifth time there.
“It’s different every time. You’ve got different teams, different venues, different crowds. Last year (Brad) Gushue won on home ice (in St. John’s, N.L.) so the crowds were larger and everyone was a little bit more excited. It’s differences like that that keep it it interesting,” Ledgerwood said.
Gushue’s Team Canada rink, with second Brett Gallant from Charlottetown, is the defending champ. Gushue, third Mark Nichols, Gallant and lead Geoff Walker will try to become the first team since Kevin Martin’s Alberta foursome in 2008-2009 to win back-to-back titles.
Gushue and Gallant are in a different pool than Gallant’s brother Chris, so the MacKenzie rink would have to get through to the championship round for the teams to meet.
Last year, MacKenzie didn’t get through the qualifying tournament to the main draw. Curling Canada dropped the unpopular segment for the new format, which gives every team a real chance to get into the championship circle.
And getting there is a thought Ledgerwood has in mind.
“It will be interesting to see if that works for us or against us. We’re kind of an underdog. We could go 4-3 or 5-2 and get a chance to get to that next round.”
This is Chris Gallant’s first Brier although he’s curled in national events and the second Brier for Barry, who threw third for Adam Casey’s 2015 P.E.I. squad.
It’s a change in personnel for MacKenzie, who had Ledgerwood at third last year, Matt Nabuurs at lead and Robbie Doherty at second. But he’s not worried.
“Our chemistry will be fine. We haven’t played a lot of games, but we’ve practised a fair bit,” MacKenzie said. “Saturday we’ll go right at it. If we play to our potential we can compete, if we don’t it’s a struggle.”
When They Play
The Eddie MacKenzie rink’s round-robin pool schedule at the Tim Hortons Brier. All times Atlantic.
4 p.m. – P.E.I. vs. Manitoba
11 a.m. – P.E.I. vs. Quebec
9 p.m. – P.E.I. vs. North Ontario
4 p.m. – P.E.I. vs. Saskatchewan
11 a.m. – P.E.I. vs. New Brunswick
9 p.m. – P.E.I. vs. Ontario
4 p.m. – P.E.I. vs. Nunavut
Pools at the Tim Hortons Brier
Pool A – Team Canada (Brad Gushue), Wild card game winner (Mike McEwen or Jason Gunnlaugson from Manitoba), Alberta (Brendan Bottcher), Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy), British Columbia (Sean Geall), Yukon (Thomas Scoffin), Newfoundland and Labrador (Greg Smith) and Northwest Territories (Jamie Koe).
Pool B – Manitoba (Reid Carruthers), Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs), Ontario (John Epping), Saskatchewan (Steve Laycock), Quebec (Mike Fournier), New Brunswick (James Grattan), P.E.I. (Eddie MacKenzie) and Nunavut (David St. Louis).