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Alberta beats Newfoundland for record-tying 27th Brier title

By: Gord Holder, Ottawa Citizen - Mar 13, 2016

Give Kevin Koe and his teammates credit. They picked a great time to be at their best.

Koe, Mark Kennedy, Brent Laing and Ben Hebert displayed coolness, consistency and ruthlessness throughout the Tim Hortons Brier playoffs, and on Sunday night they turned those qualities into a championship with a 9-5 triumph against Brad Gushue’s Newfoundland and Labrador foursome in the final at TD Place arena.

The title was the third for each of them, although not all together, and the 27th overall for Alberta, tying Manitoba for the most by any province.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s second such crown, and the first since Jack MacDuff’s rink took one four decades ago, will have to wait. Maybe in 2017, when the Brier returns to St. John’s for the first time since 1972.

“It feels great. This event is so hard to win,” said Koe, who was also champion in 2010 and 2014, and received a silver medal in 2012. “To win three out of four (finals) feels awesome, and with the new team it feels even better.”

Koe, Kennedy, Laing and Hebert will now represent Canada in the world championship in early April at Basel, Switzerland. Between them, they already have six world gold medals and one silver, plus three world junior titles and 2010 Vancouver Olympic gold for Laing and Hebert.

The key shot of the game was Koe’s chip takeout of a Newfoundland and Labrador stone in the four-foot ring in the seventh end, producing three points for a 7-3 lead that Gushue’s team couldn’t overcome.

“We take away the fact that we played good all week,” said Gushue, who now has a second Brier silver medal to go with a bronze, but no gold in 13 attempts. “We fought through a lot of tough games.

“People were saying this was the best Brier field of all time, and we were in the final and had a realistic chance of winning. If we keep working the way we’re working, and practising and playing as much as we do, I think we’ll have other opportunities, and hopefully we can get ourselves back in this position next year in St. John’s.”

Sunday’s showdown started with a bang: steals in the first two ends, which represented fantastic news for Alberta and the worst possible for Newfoundland and Labrador since both went the westerners’ way.

In both cases, a combination of good touch by Koe, fine line calls by Kennedy and quality brushing by Laing and Hebert slid stones into virtually unreachable locations. Gushue’s attempts at a double-raise takeout (first end) and come-around tap (second) couldn’t nudge the counting rocks far enough to prevent the thefts.

Gushue played safely in the third end, opting against a risky double-takeout in favour of a sure hit for one, but Alberta, now with last-rock advantage, used it to score twice in the fourth for a 4-1 lead.

Another fine double-takeout by Koe forced Gushue to again play for one in the fifth end, but a runback double by the Alberta skip went awry in the sixth, so Newfoundland and Labrador stole one to make it 4-3.

Then a touch of curling insanity, as the seventh end featured a Flintstones-size pile of rocks that peaked at seven touching the four-foot ring and nine overall inside the eight-foot. Koe capped the madness by chipping a Newfoundland and Labrador stone out the back end for three points, extending the lead to four.

Newfoundland and Labrador sliced that deficit in half with two in the eighth, but conceded after Alberta responded with a pair in the ninth.

Then it was time for the presentation of the Brier trophy that had been escorted onto the ice by a delegation including Ottawa-area curler Craig Savill, Laing’s former teammate for two Canadian and world junior championships and another pair of Brier and world men’s titles with Glenn Howard’s Ontario rink.

The Albertans actually started their extended Brier-week visit to the national capital by dropping in on Savill as he was receiving chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the Ottawa Cancer Centre on March 3. Savill also attended a handful of draws starting this past Thursday night. 

“When we were there, it was the four of us and Craig, and it was like we were sitting at a bar with some drinks, laughing, and Craig was awesome,” Laing said. “To have him here and to have him come out with the Brier (trophy), it was a bit of an emotional moment for me, but it was awesome to have him around all week.

“It’s weird not to have him on the ice with me. I’ve never made that walk and won the Brier without him (before).”

The 2016 Brier title was also worth $225,000 to Koe and his Calgary-based crewmates, including $144,000 in Sport Canada funding over two years. Newfoundland and Labrador team members will split $61,000.


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