LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Darren Moulding stood by the hack on Sheet D at the Enmax Centre on Friday and looked up at a small group of fans watching the practice session at the Tim Hortons Brier.
One supporter gave him a thumbs-up and an affirming nod, drawing a smile from the veteran third. It was a small sampling of what’s likely to come Saturday night.
Moulding – now with New Brunswick’s James Grattan after representing Alberta for years with Brendan Bottcher – made it back to the Brier in his home province. Now he’ll take on his former teammates in a showdown that curling fans have been waiting for since his surprise firing last December.
“The opening Saturday night of the Brier is always a party, right? So this just adds that little extra oomph to it,” Moulding said Friday.
With no capacity restrictions, the atmosphere in the 5,900-seat venue should be electric for the round-robin matchup.
The popular Moulding, who called Lethbridge home for about a decade, likely gained even more supporters after he was let go by the Edmonton-based team.
Sharing feelings in subsequent media interviews in his heart-on-his-sleeve style gave curling fans a backstage pass to the emotional undercurrents that had been swirling.
Moulding was let go about a week after the team missed the playoffs at Canada’s Olympic curling trials.
The wording of a team statement announcing the move was hotly disputed by Moulding. That kicked off an extended news cycle as perceived causes of the split were aired separately by Moulding and Bottcher.
The Bottcher team changed the wording of its statement two days after the announcement. References to Moulding taking time away from the sport and departing for personal reasons were removed.
Bottcher apologized for the statement’s wording, adding that a roster change was needed due to team chemistry issues.
A couple weeks later, Moulding joined forces with Grattan’s side and they went on to win their provincial playdowns.
Bottcher, Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin, meanwhile, later moved fifth Patrick Janssen into the third spot. Their Brier berth as Team Canada was secured as the returning champions.
“It’s not like pure hatred, like we want to hurt each other for real,” Moulding said. “But I’m sure they don’t like me very much right now and I can say that I probably don’t like them very much.
“But that’s all just game. It’s curling. It’s a sport. When it comes to life and people, I still have respect for everybody here.”
As far as high-profile curling splits go, the Moulding firing was up there with Cathy Overton-Clapham’s surprise sacking by Jennifer Jones in 2010 and Lisa Weagle’s unexpected departure from Rachel Homan’s rink in 2020.
Moulding said Friday he has had little to do with his former teammates since their sit-down meeting in early December.
“I think for both sides, it has probably been a little bit of a weird couple months,” he said. “Hopefully in the future there can come a time where we can maybe get together and hash things out a little bit. But as of now, that hasn’t happened.”
Bottcher’s Canada team will open against Ontario’s Glenn Howard on Friday night. Grattan’s rink will play Matt Dunstone’s Wild Card Two side.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2022.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press