Team Manitoba skip Mike McEwen makes a shot against Team British Columbia at the Tim Hortons Brier in Lethbridge, Alta., Saturday, March 5, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

With new Olympic quadrennial comes free agent frenzy – curling style

With new Olympic quadrennial comes free agent frenzy - curling style

LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — Curling fans at the Enmax Centre may want to keep a copy of this year’s Brier program as a souvenir. It’ll likely be the last national playdowns for most of the top teams as they’re currently constructed.

Roster changes are usually the norm whenever an Olympic cycle comes to an end. The Tim Hortons Brier in an Olympic season is often the last big hurrah for many rinks.

Free agency season is about to begin — if it hasn’t already. In a sport without agents, team owners or general managers, it’s up to the curlers to figure out their future plans.

“I’m sure that there’s going to be a lot of whispers going on in the background and probably some closed-door conversations,” said Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs. “Maybe even guys sneaking room to room and having conversations. But I will have no part of that.”

Sometimes discussions begin at the end of the Olympic trials in the fall. On other occasions, talking starts at the nationals and continues over the last few weeks of the season.

With top rinks wanting to put the best possible foursome together with an eye at the 2026 Winter Games, the timing of any potential lineup moves is critical.

There are only so many top-level teams and vacancies can be filled quickly.

“This is the first time I’ve been through it in a number of cycles,” said Wild Card One skip Brad Gushue. “It’s a little bit gossipy, a little bit sly, it’s a whole bunch of things. For the most part people try to be respectful but you also don’t want to tip your hand too much either.

“It’s kind of a nasty thing I think every four years to be quite honest. I wish it was done a little bit different but there’s no other way to do it.”

There have already been some women’s roster changes, most notably Joanne Courtney’s announcement that she’ll be leaving Rachel Homan’s team at the end of the season to focus on her family and career.

Players have several things to consider before making a move to a different team. They include residency, chemistry, motivation levels, logistics, age, sponsorships and ranking points.

“I certainly think that with every team out here, I’d be shocked if there’s one team that stays together to be quite honest,” Gushue said. “Not from rumours I’ve heard, just the way things have evolved. I’d just expect some big changes.”

Some men’s team announcements could come as soon as this month.

First up though is the Tim Hortons Brier, which runs through Sunday. But over the course of the week, talks could happen in the hotel lobby, locker rooms or even over a pint at The Patch, the nearby party barn.

“There’s no right or wrong way to go about how any of this is done,” said Wild Card Two skip Matt Dunstone. “None of it is fun … but it is a part of the game.

“Fortunately I think everybody here is on the same page that nobody is touching these sort of conversations until after the event. Eye on the prize.”

Dunstone’s Regina-based team has been locked in so far in round-robin play. The rink remained unbeaten at 6-0 after an 8-6 victory over Prince Edward Island’s Tyler Smith on Tuesday afternoon.

Canada’s Brendan Bottcher was also perfect at 5-0 after a 10-4 rout of Yukon’s Thomas Scoffin. Alberta’s Kevin Koe topped New Brunswick’s James Grattan 5-2 and Saskatchewan’s Colton Flasch doubled Ontario’s Glenn Howard 6-3.

Earlier in the day, Manitoba’s Mike McEwen defeated Paul Flemming 7-4 to leave both teams at 3-1 entering the evening draw. Gushue led Pool B at 4-0 and Jacobs was at 4-1 after an 8-3 victory over Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories.

Quebec’s Michael Fournier posted a 9-4 win over Nunavut’s Peter Mackey and Wild Card Three’s Jason Gunnlaugson defeated Brent Pierce of British Columbia 9-4.

Notes: The Saturday night showdown between New Brunswick and Canada was a ratings winner for TSN. It was Darren Moulding’s first game against his former teammates since they let him go last fall. The draw had an average audience of 508,000 viewers, a TSN spokesman said via email, a jump of 13 per cent from last year’s draw in the same broadcast window.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2022.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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