You can excuse curling fans for doing a double-take at the Tim Hortons Brier.
Legendary skip Kevin Martin is sporting familiar Alberta colours at the national men’s curling championship this week at Mile One Centre. The 2010 Olympic champion is back at the Brier to coach his son Karrick and the provincial team skipped by Brendan Bottcher.
Instead of standing at the end of the sheet and throwing last stones, the former skip — who retired in 2014 — watches the action from his seat on the back bench.
“I hadn’t been back to a Brier in any way since I retired,” Martin said Monday. “To have the opportunity, you know coaching my son is a big deal ... it’s neat. It’s good to get back into it.”
The event is a reunion of sorts for Martin, who has played with and against many of the curlers in the field. The four-time Brier champion won gold at the Vancouver Games with John Morris (now with B.C.), Ben Hebert and Marc Kennedy (now with Canada skip Kevin Koe).
Longtime opponents like Richard Hart and Glenn Howard of Ontario are also on hand along with veteran skip Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Martin, who has stayed involved in the game with his curling broadcasting work, started coaching Bottcher’s rink before the provincial playdowns and helped them earn their first Brier berth.
“He’s been working with us quite a bit technically and tactically trying to get a few small tweaks here and there,” Bottcher said. “I think the biggest thing he brings though is just the experience factor.
“He’s the solid ground to come back to.”
Bottcher’s team of Karrick at lead, third Darren Moulding and second Brad Thiessen had the unenviable task of playing local favourite Gushue in the round-robin opener Saturday before a rabid capacity crowd.
The Alberta rink played well in a losing effort before dropping two more games Sunday. Bottcher finally got into the win column Monday afternoon with a 7-2 victory over New Brunswick’s Mike Kennedy.
In other early games, Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs defeated Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories 9-5, Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard beat Saskatchewan’s Adam Casey 8-3 and Morris edged Nova Scotia’s Jamie Murphy 4-3.
Manitoba’s Mike McEwen remained unbeaten at 4-0 after a 10-6 victory over Bottcher in the evening draw. Jacobs (4-1) moved into second place with a 7-2 win over Howard.
Gushue beat Casey 10-5 to move into a third-place tie with Kevin Koe, who dropped a 5-4 decision to Morris (3-2). Menard and Murphy were next at 2-2 after seven draws.
Casey was 2-3, Kennedy and Howard were 1-3 and Bottcher was 1-4. Jamie Koe was the lone winless rink at 0-4.
Martin said most of his coaching work is done before and after Bottcher’s team is on the ice. During the game, he’ll chart shots, take notes for the post-game debrief and check stones on other sheets.
Karrick added his father has also helped take the team’s practice routine to a higher level.
“We put a lot of work in,” Karrick said. “I think we all felt ready when we came to the provincials and just as ready when we came to the Brier. He gives you a lot of confidence coming into things.”
During timeouts, the players also feel comfortable knowing they can draw on Martin’s many years of elite-level experience.
“For the rest of us it’s a new experience but he’s been (there) at every point in the Brier,” Bottcher said. “He has not qualified, he’s qualified, he’s obviously won it. I don’t think there’s anything we can run into this week that will be new for him and I think that’s big for us.”
Round-robin play continues through Friday morning. The medal games are scheduled for Sunday.
“It’s their first one,” Martin said of the young team. “So enjoy it and then learn a whole bunch from it because the emotions are different. It’s just a different way of looking at it. They’ve played a lot of big games before in front of big crowds, it’s just a little different.
“So it’s nice to get that first W for sure. Now they can relax and play.”
Notes: Longtime Curling Canada chief statistician Brian Cassidy and Reg Caughie — who has served as the Brier Bear mascot since 1981 — will be inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame this week. ... Canada defeated Germany 8-2 on Monday in round-robin play at the world wheelchair curling championship in Gangneung, South Korea. Canada (4-1) will play China and South Korea on Tuesday.Report Typo/Error