Four-time champion Kevin Koe crashes out of contention at Brier

Among the surprises to start the 2024 Canadian men’s curling championship, four-time champion Kevin Koe’s struggles were completely unexpected.

The buzz around four teams toppling higher seeds on the fourth day of the Montana’s Brier spilled into Tuesday, when the No. 3 men’s team in Canada added to the drama in Regina by falling out of playoff contention with a fifth loss.

“This is about rock bottom,” Koe said after an 11-5 loss to Nova Scotia’s Matthew Manuel. “I’m not going to lie. I’ve been to a lot of Briers. This is a new feeling. It sucks.”

Koe, third Tyler Tardi and lead Karrick Martin are in their second season together with Jacques Gauthier the newcomer at second when Brad Thiessen stepped back from the sport. 

The four men out of Calgary’s Glencoe Club have been assembled with the 2025 Olympic trials in mind.

A 1-5 record to start the Brier — the win was against Kevin’s brother Jamie, who called his older sibling’s losing record “really shocking” — doesn’t have Kevin pondering changes to his lineup.

If the team holds onto its ranking through April’s Players Championship in Toronto to season’s end, Koe could pre-qualify for the 2025 Brier in Kelowna, B.C., under new Curling Canada criteria.

“We won’t be making any changes. As far as I know anyway,” Koe said. “I like our team. We’re throwing it way better than we were in the first half of the year. I think we’re third in Canada coming into this event. We just had a (bad) week. No changes.”

Koe gained entry to the Brier as the highest-ranked, non-qualified team. They lost to Aaron Sluchinski in Alberta’s men’s final and again in their tournament opener in Regina.

Koe and teammates didn’t find their footing in subsequent losses to Saskatchewan’s Mike McEwen, Quebec’s Julien Tremblay, defending champion Brad Gushue or Manuel.

“Our draw weight as a team was terrible,” Koe said. “You can’t play like that. No finger pointing. Especially me, I’ve never missed that many draws in my life.”

Koe, 49, is among the country’s most seasoned skips having led other teams to his four Canadian and two world titles. 

He ranks third all-time in Brier finals with eight and has missed the playoffs just once (6-5 in 2015) in 11 previous appearances.

Koe won the Olympic trials to represent Canada in the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. His team lost the bronze-medal game there.

The talent was there for Koe in Regina. Tardi and Gauthier, who are 25-year-old cousins, have skipped Canadian teams to world junior titles. Martin won a Brier with Brendan Bottcher in 2021. 

The execution was inexplicably absent, which didn’t go unnoticed by his competitors. 

“This is uncharted territory for Kevin Koe,” Saskatchewan skip Mike McEwen said. “I don’t know what to say.”

Two remaining games in his pool in Regina with little at stake was a bland prospect for a curler accustomed to jostling for playoff seeding at the Brier.

“I’m not going to lie. It’ll be tough to be motivated,” Koe said. “We put a lot of work. I honestly thought we were a playoff team coming in here. 

“We’re pros. We’re going to come and try and win tomorrow and then the next day and go from there.”

He was in the unusual position of seeing brother Jamie ranked higher than his team in the standings. Northwest Territories got off to a 4-1 start.

“Our roles are flip-flopped from a typical Brier,” Kevin said. “I’ll be pulling for him and cheering hard.”

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