Kevin Koe sliding into Brier 'under the radar' thanks to Alberta's curling depth

Calgary rink likes ‘where we’re at’ heading to national curling final in Regina

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Is there a changing of the guard around Alberta men’s curling circles?

Sure … Kevin Koe lost the provincial final — the first time that’s happened to him in 11 years whenever he’s been part of the championship week.

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But that surprising drop speaks more to the depth of the field in Wild Rose Country than it does the veteran’s ability to still win the big one.

Because Koe’s still going into the 2024 Montana’s Brier among the big-shots to win it when it opens Friday night in Regina.

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“We definitely won’t be the favourite at the Brier — we’ll probably be like top five-ish,” said the wily skip about his team representing The Glencoe Club in Calgary.

“But I’m excited,” continued Koe. “I think my team is trending very well. And I think we’re going to do well.”

There’s truly no reason to doubt him.

Koe always knows the score, having won four national titles — the latest coming in 2019 in Brandon.

He’ll hunt for number five — with third Tyler Tardi, second Jacques Gauthier, lead Karrick Martin and coach Mike Libbus — beginning Friday night at the Brandt Centre in Regina (5 p.m., TSN).

And in that first draw, it’s a chance to exact vengeance on Aaron Sluchinski and his Airdrie team who upset Koe & Co. in the Alberta final.

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“Perfect time to play them, but be careful what you wish for,” said Koe, referring to Team Sluchinski’s ability to be in the title talk itself. “It’s his first Brier, so you’d hope that it’s new for him and that helps us. We’ve been there lots.

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“But credit to Team Sluchinski — they beat us. In the final game, they played great.”

And contrary to what many may believe, Team Koe having already qualified for the Brier — by finishing third in the Canadian Team Ranking System — didn’t downplay its desire to want to win the Alberta title.

“I’ve never lost provincials since 2013 (the last time Kevin Martin won Alberta), and I wanted to win,” said Koe, an eight-time provincial champion with wins in 2010, ’12, ’14, ’15, ’16, ’19, ’22 and ’23. He wasn’t part of the 2017, ’18, ’20 or ’21 Alberta playdowns due to COVID constraints or because he’d already qualified for the Brier as either defending champion or being the Olympic Games representative for Canada.

“You always want to be Team Alberta — there’s no ifs ands or buts.”

And if it doesn’t happen, there’s usually a good reason why.

Sluchinski was that reason this year, giving Alberta three legitimate threats to triumph at the Brier.

Brendan Bottcher, who was tops on that CRTS list to qualify for the national championship, and his Glencoe crew represent the other Wild Rose rink in the mix — arguably as the tournament favourite.

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But all that just gives Koe more fuel for the finale.

“I’m excited for this Brier,” said the 49-year-old Edmonton native. “I mean … I kind of realize where I’m kind of going in terms of opportunities to win it, and this is one where I really think we can slip in under the radar and have a good chance.

“And it’s the same old same old, right? Not to disrespect anyone — there’s always great teams, but three Alberta teams in the Brier? If they have this (CRTS qualifying) format 15 or 20 years ago, there would be three Alberta teams every year. Right? Like … think about the years where you had Pat Ryan, Ed Lukowich, Randy Ferbey and Martin. Think of how many opportunities they would have had back in the day. So it’s really nothing new for Alberta. I think that the depth is what makes Alberta teams as good as they are.”

And make no mistake about it, Koe believes his rink is as good for this Brier as any he’s taking to the big dance.

Kevin Koe
Team Alberta skip Kevin Koe (L) and third Tyler Tardi during Draw 10 against Team NL during the 2023 Brier in London, Ontario. Curling Canada/Michael Burns Photo

At the Brier, the Glencoe rink is in Pool B with Sluchinski, Canada’s Brad Gushue, Saskatchewan’s Mike McEwen, Québec’s Julien Tremblay, Nova Scotia’s Matthew Manuel, Prince Edward Island’s Tyler Smith, Nunavut’s Shane Latimer and Northwest Territories, skipped by Koe’s younger brother, Jamie.

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“I really love the dynamic on our team with Jacques Gauthier,” said Koe, of his second from Winnipeg who replaced Brad Thiessen this season. “Last year, we probably had too many quiet guys.

“He’s a little more outgoing. So he’s a perfect fit.”

Team Koe won both the Astec Safety Challenge in Lloydminster and the Pumps and Pressure Red Deer Curling Classic and made the final in both the Insitu Players Open in Ontario and the ATB Okotoks Classic — all featuring slam-like fields.

“We’ve been very streaky this year,” added Koe. “We’ve had bad slams, but other than that, we’ve had a really good year. We’ve won a couple spiels and lost a couple finals, and they were hard spiels with a lot of the top teams. So very, very streaky. But we’ve put in a lot of time and effort, technically, in the last two months.

“So I like where we’re at. I think we have a good chance.”

[email protected]

X: @ToddSaelhofPM

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