Jamie Koe is keeping it simple, even after a breakout performance at the Canadian men’s curling championship.
An historic result at the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier for his Territories team, with the added flourish of a Koe-versus-Koe playoff game, were entertaining storylines in Saskatoon.
Koe’s Yellowknife team were the first Territories representative to make the playoffs at the Canadian championship since playoffs were introduced to the format in 1980.
The Koe foursome went 7-4 in the preliminary round, including an upset win over eventual Canadian champion Glenn Howard, to claim the fourth and final playoff berth.
Jamie Koe faced his brother Kevin’s team from Alberta in the Page playoff between the third and fourth seeds. Jamie lost the playoff game to his younger brother and then the bronze medal game to Manitoba.
But for a region of the country that often struggles to be competitive at the Brier, finishing fourth among some of the best curling teams in Canada was significant.
Koe, third Tom Naugler, second Brad Chorostkowski and lead Robert Borden return to the Brier in Edmonton this year hoping to re-capture some of that magic from Saskatoon. Koe is skipping the Territories at the Brier for the seventh time in his career.
“I think we see ourselves as a middle-of-the-pack team,” Koe said Saturday. “We’re not going to make the playoffs every year, but the years we get hot, we think we’ll be contention and that happened last year.
“We just have to give ourselves a chance this week, stick around the middle of the pack and try and set ourselves up for Friday to win a couple of games and get ourselves in the playoffs.”
The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin Friday make the playoffs.
Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador won twice Saturday and was alone at 2-0. Koe was 1-1 after opening day.
Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton stole a point in an extra end to beat Alberta’s Kevin Martin 5-4 in a battle of curling heavyweights Saturday night.
Manitoba joined defending champion Glenn Howard of Ontario, Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs, Saskathewan’s Brock Virtue and Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard at 1-0.
Martin was 0-1 along with B.C.’s Andrew Bilesky and Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming. New Brunswick’s James Grattan and Prince Edward Island’s Eddie MacKenzie opened 0-2.
The Territories representative at the Brier is currently decided via playoffs between teams from Northwest Territories and Yukon, but the Yukon didn’t sent any teams to Fort Smith, N.W.T., this year.
“They had nobody interested in travelling,” Koe explained. “That knocked off our second stage of playdowns. We lost about six competitive games. We ended up just playing four to get here. That really hurts us.”
Next year’s Territorial playdowns are scheduled to be in Whitehorse. Koe says that means flying from Yellowknife through both Edmonton and Vancouver to get to Whitehorse.
“You fly through two other provinces to get to your provincials, is basically what it is,” Koe said.
While the Brier favourites such as Alberta’s Kevin Martin and Howard travel to World Curling Tour events across Canada and play each other often during the winter, Territories teams are at a disadvantage because of the distance and money required to do that.
So even though last year’s Brier result showed the potential in Koe’s team, they didn’t attempt to mimic the competitive schedule of the teams of the south.
“We just have no interest in the long travel weeks and coming home for a couple days to work and see your family,” the 35-year-old skip explained. “It’s not where we’re at in our lives right now.
“The travel is tough. It’s so expensive to do it too. It’s really not about the money, but the time away from your family. We’ve all got young kids. We’re all young in our careers.”
Koe and Borden both work for the Territorial government, Naugler runs and owns a technology company and Chorostkowski owns a lodge.
Koe and company played in WCT events in Red Deer, Alta., and Calgary last fall and reached the semifinals in Calgary. But most of their Brier preparation is simply throwing rocks as often as they can at the Yellowknife Curling Club.
Their Brier coach Terry Shea is the icemaker there and gives them a sheet of ice with as much curl as he can muster to simulate ice conditions at the national championship.
“We do train hard all year just for this event,” Koe said. “This event is our whole season basically. It’s what we look forward to and practice for.”
Also Saturday, Alberta second Marc Kennedy won the Ford Hot Shots competition preceding the opening draw. He defeated Ontario third Wayne Middaugh to win a two-year lease on a car.