The luck of the draw; Brier tiebreakers put emphasis on a pre-game skill

Brendan Bottcher wanted his team sharpshooter ready if reaching the Canadian men’s curling championship playoffs came down to the draw.

The elimination of tiebreaker games from the national men’s and women’s curling championships this year gave prominence to other tiebreaking methods.

The top three teams in each pool of nine advance to a six-team playoff round.

A five-way tie for the final playoff berth at the recent Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary was solved by ranking each team’s cumulative score in the two draws to the button that precede each game to decide which team gets hammer in the first end.

So while a head-to-head result is the first tiebreaker at the Montana’s Brier, the second is button-draw scores. Each member of a team has to throw a minimum of three over the course of eight pool games.

Curling Canada adopted the formula this year to mirror the format of the world championships and Olympic Games. 

Canada’s Jennifer Jones was eliminated from Olympic playoff contention in Beijing in 2022 because of the worst button-draw score in a three-way tie.

Edmonton’s Bottcher, Mark Kennedy, E.J. Harnden and Ben Hebert comfortably led their pool in that department Wednesday, which could be handy Thursday when pool play concludes in Regina.

“The last five weeks, we started almost every practice with a full pre-game, two draws opposite sides just trying to replicate it, because it certainly is important,” Bottcher said.

“The only time we do this is at the Brier and the team that wins gets to do it at the worlds too, but compared to all the other events we play through the course of a season, this is different.”

Bottcher and company also augmented their winning record Wednesday with a quick 15-3 win over New Brunswick to join Northern Ontario’s Trevor Bonot and Manitoba’s Reid Carruthers at 5-1 atop Pool A.

Manitoba’s Matt Dunstone (4-2) chased the leaders with an 8-7 win in an extra end over Ontario’s Scott Howard (3-4).

Dunstone will face a rested Bonot, who had the day off, in a matchup with playoff implications Thursday morning.

“They’re playing great. I mean, the story of the Brier so far,” Dunstone. “When this team’s firing, when this team is going, we’re as hard to beat as anybody on the planet.”

Carruthers was a 6-3 winner over Andrew Symonds of Newfoundland and Labrador (1-5). B.C.’s Caitlin Schneider (4-3) defeated Yukon 11-2 to drop Thomas Scoffin to 1-5.

Saskatchewan’s Mike McEwen (5-1) led Pool B heading into the evening draw with defending champion Brad Gushue (5-2) on his heels. 

Northwest Territories’ Jamie Koe and Prince Edward Island’s Tyler Smith were both 4-2 after morning losses to McEwen and Gushue respectively.

Alberta’s Aaron Sluchinski (3-3), Quebec’s Julien Tremblay (2-4), Nova Scotia’s Matthew Manuel (3-4) and Nunavut’s Shane Latimer (1-5) rounded out Pool B.

Saturday’s four Page playoff teams will emerge from Friday’s six. The top two seeds in each pool have the advantage of a second chance if they drop their first playoff game.

Sunday’s winner will represent Canada at the world championship March 30 to April 7 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland and return to the 2025 Montana’s Brier in Kelowna, B.C., as defending champion.

The victor also gains an Olympic trials berth in 2025 pending a top-six result at the world championship. 

Bottcher’s team was 90 per cent accurate on draws heading into Thursday. The skip was running at 88 per cent although he was well short of the rings on a routine draw to give up a steal of one and the game to Bonot on Monday.

The CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders helped Bottcher put that devastating loss behind him by hosting his curling team in their Mosaic Stadium dressing room the next morning.

“We got to go in there, work with our team doctor,” Bottcher said. “We had a cold tub, a hot tub, a sauna, a shave, played some pickleball for a few hours. We burnt the whole morning in their dressing room, which was outstanding of them.”

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