B.C. champs to be tested early
They are among the most decorated teams in Canadian men's curling.
And Jim Cotter's Vernon-Kelowna rink will see each and every one one of them during the first four draws of the Tim Hortons Brier beginning this weekend in London, Ont.
The B.C. champs will start off the national championship with games against Jeff Stoughton, Kevin Martin, Brad Gushue and Glenn Howard, all of whom have won either a world title or an Olympic gold medal. In Martin's case, the Alberta rink has won both.
"You'd rather see those guys at the beginning of the week than at the end," said Kelowna's Kevin Folk, the B.C. second.
"They'll be adjusting to the ice at the same time we are, so anything can happen in those first few games. Of course you'd like to start out 4-0, but ideally if we can come out of it against those teams with a split, then we should be in pretty good shape for the rest of the week."
It will be the local rink's second appearance at the Brier. With Bob Ursel calling the shots and playing third, the Kelowna-based foursome started 0-3 at the 2008 championship in Winnipeg before rallying to finish the round robin at 7-4.
In the playoffs, the B.C. curlers came up short against Ontario's Glenn Howard.
This time around—with Ursel sidelined with an injured knee—the local team will again feature Cotter throwing skip stones, new addition Ken Maskiewich at third, Folk at second and Rick Sawatsky once again playing lead.
Cotter expects their experience three years ago will benefit the trio of rink members who are heading to Canada's ultimate curling showcase for the second time.
"Anytime you can get some experience playing at the Brier, it's going to help you next time around," said Cotter. "Winnipeg is really the centre of curling, so we really saw the height of all the hype and everything else that goes with a Brier. You couldn't ask for a better place to learn what it's all about.
"You'd like to think it gets a little easier each time, so hopefully the guys will all be relaxed, just go out and play and not be affected too much by the distractions."
In London, the Cotter crew hopes to reach its peak in what has been a solid
2010-11 season to date.
The Okanagan foursome won the Crown of Curling in Kamloops, made the semifinals in two World Cup events, and reached the quarters of a Grand Slam event in Vernon.
Then, three weeks ago in Kamloops, the Cotter rink lost just once in 11 games en route to winning the B.C. men's title.
"The guys have played fantastic all year," said Cotter. "We really are a team and that's been the key to our success. I may be the skip, but the decision making comes from all of us. We work together very well."
Despite making just his second appearance as a player, the Brier is nothing new to Kevin Folk.
The 30-year-old financial accounts manager watched his dad, Rick Folk, play at the 1989, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Canadian championships.
Kevin narrowly missed making to his first Brier as a player with his dad in 2003 and knows firsthand how difficult making it to the big show can be .
"I had hoped by now I would have been to more than just two Briers, but that really tells you how tough it is to get there," Folk said. "Ever since I saw my dad in a Brier, it's always been my dream of mine to play in it. When you get there you need to enjoy it and make it count."
The elder Folk will also make the trip to London to serve as the coach for Team B.C.
"His experience and what he's seen over the years will be a real bonus for us," Cotter said of Rick Folk.
Team B.C. will open the Brier Saturday afternoon at the 9,100-seat John Labatt Centre against Jeff Stoughton.