Time was Saskatchewan was a power in men’s curling. But it’s been 33 long years since a Saskatchewan rink last hoisted the coveted Brier tankard. That would be the Rick Folk rink out of Saskatoon in 1980.
The 2013 Brier gets going at Northlands Coliseum in Edmonton tomorrow. Representing Saskatchewan is the Brock Virtue rink (pictured). When I first heard that they’d won the provincial title (it was on Super Bowl Sunday, and I was visiting with a friend) I said “Brock Virtue? Sounds like the real-life name of a super hero.”
Virtue, who curls out of Regina, beat Saskatoon’s Bruce Korte in the final. Korte has Brier experience, so I initially lamented that he hadn’t won, and thought “Oh great, looks like another 3-8 finish for Saskatchewan at the Brier.”
But once I found out a bit more about the team I changed my tune a bit. It’s not like I’m picking them to win. With the likes of Glenn Howard (Ont.), Kevin Martin (Alta.), Jeff Stoughton (Man.) and Brad Gushue (Nfld. & Lab.) it’s a tough field. And curling in front of 17,000 people and a national TV audience in a week-long tournament is always a challenge. But if they have a decent showing, it could lay the groundwork for bigger things down the road.
When Saskatchewan was a power curling was an amateur sport. We had lots of grain farmers with time on their hands in their winter and that made us exceedingly competitive. Now, though, curling is pretty much a professional sport. And Saskatchewan just hasn’t been able to step up to the plate as far as producing top-level rinks go.
The Virtue rink’s coming out party at the provincial championship was marred by some uncurlinglike behaviour involving foul language and temper tantrums. But there’s no denying that they’re talented curlers. In a Thursday profile the Edmonton Journal even called them a Saskatchewan “Dream Team“. Here’s an excerpt:
Third Braeden Moskowy, 22, a two-time Saskatchewan men’s junior champion, is the 2011 Canadian junior champion. Lead D.J. Kidby, 25, a three-time Saskatchewan junior men’s champion, was on the 2005 world junior championship team. Second Chris Schille, 30, played in two Briers with Newfoundland/Labrador’s Brad Gushue -– one of them a runner-up finish in 2007. Virtue, 26, albeit a Brier rookie, is also a world (2007) junior champion.
Last year, playing out of his hometown of Lethbridge, Virtue skipped a rink which -– after knocking off Kevin Martin twice — finished second to Kevin Koe in the Alberta men’s curling championship.
On the cash circuit earlier this season the team didn’t enjoy a ton of success. But they had a strong playdown run and could be peaking at the right time. When I canvassed a couple of curling fans I know, one predicted a 5W and 6L Brier for Saskatchewan but with the possibility of the team getting hot ; while the other thought they might go 7-4 and qualify for the playoffs.
We’ll see how they do starting tomorrow on TSN.