Wild-card team added to Brier, Hearts

OTTAWA — A 16th team has been added to next year’s Canadian men’s and women’s curling championships, and it will have to win its way in via a wild-card game.

Curling Canada revamped the format of the Tim Hortons Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts because the previous pre-tournament qualifier was unpopular.

Under the new format, the top two teams in the Canadian Team Rankings System that don’t win their province or territory will square off the evening prior to the start of the round robin at both events. The winner earns a berth in the 16-team field.

The CTRS rankings are determined by points earned at curling events during the season.

“Everyone agreed that this was an ideal and positive solution to the issue of determining the 16th entry into the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Tim Hortons Brier,” Curling Canada chief executive officer Katherine Henderson said Wednesday in a statement.

“The new 16-team format ensures every member association is participating from the beginning of the week, and also ensures that a quality field is in place in order to determine a Canadian team to wear the Maple Leaf and play for a world championship.”

What the wild-card team will be called and what colours they’ll wear has yet to be announced by Curling Canada.

A pre-qualifying tournament introduced in 2014 had the four lowest-seeded provinces and territories playing off to get into the main draw, with the three losers going home early.

In order to give full participation to all provinces and territories, and continue having a defending champion and a Northern Ontario entry in both the Hearts and the Brier, a 16-team format was the next solution. It allows for two pools of eight teams.

Curling Canada said the wild-card option was spearheaded by an athletes’ advisory council that includes Mike McEwen, E.J. Harnden, Nolan Thiessen, Lisa Weagle, Tracy Fleury and Val Sweeting.

“I don’t think many curlers would say no to a second chance at qualifying for the Brier or the Scotties, and the thing I really like is that a team has to win a game in order to qualify,” McEwen said in the statement.

Teams in the wild-card game must have participated in their respective provincial and territorial championship.

The 2018 Tournament of Hearts is in Penticton, B.C., from Jan. 27 to Feb. 4. The Brier runs March 2-11 in Regina.

The top four teams from each pool advance to a championship round to determine the four playoff teams.

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