It’s just over a week until Rick Sawatsky steps onto the ice for his tenth appearance in the Tim Hortons Brier.
This year, despite the Canadian men’s curling championship not appearing in his hometown of Kelowna, he’s ready to give the other provinces a run for their money.
Sawatsky, who shoots lead for Team BC (Jim Cotter of Vernon, Steve Laycock of Sask., Andrew Nerpin of Kelowna, fifth player Tyler Tardi of Cloverdale) is no stranger to the Brier cup. However, this year is unlike any other; anything could happen.
Three more wild card teams, comprised of some of the best in the country, have been added to the pools. In addition, COVID-19 restrictions have locked down many rinks. Some teams, who normally would have played 120 competitive games by this point, have played just a handful.
Because of this, the playing field has been levelled out.
During the pandemic, curling teams, especially those with members in different cities, have found it hard to meet up for practices.
However, unlike some provinces, the Government of B.C. has allowed curling rinks to stay open, under strict conditions. Because of this, Team BC was able to continue practicing. Although League play was suspended, they managed to secure some ice to practice on.
“I think that gives us a bit of an advantage,” said Sawatsky.
Upon arrival, team members are on lockdown. From the airport, it’s straight to a COVID-19 testing site, then on to their hotel for isolation until results are received. On game days, they travel from their hotels straight to the arena, with no trips in between.
In addition to no fans, no meet-and-greets and no autograph sessions, there will also be no socializing with other teams, which is a big change from previous years.
“We’ve all created friendships all across the country from all the different guys; we all want to kill each other on the ice but we’re all pretty good buddies off the ice. It’s going to be different,” Sawatsky said.
It’s also a big change for the fans, who often get the opportunity to share a beverage with some of the best in the world, post-game.
To stay sane, Sawatsky has brought a stack of books to read during his alone time in his hotel.
For the start of the tournament, Team BC will be facing some tough competitors. Among them, Team Koe (2x World Champion, 4x Brier Champion), Team Botcher (Canadian Junior Champion), Team Jacobs (Olympic Gold medalist, 1x Brier Champion), and Team Howard (4x World Champion, 4x Brier Champion).
In the 2020 Brier, Brad Gushue beat Bottcher in the final.
That said, Sawatsky is confident in their team’s preparation and said they’re in it to win it. There isn’t a team in the tournament they haven’t beaten before.
“We’ve been doing this quite a long time, we’ve played all these teams many many times on tour, and throughout Briers. There isn’t really a team we’re scared of,” Sawatsky said.
“It’s a lot like golf, right. There are legitimately six or seven teams that could win this event, it’s just a matter of who plays the best that week.”
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