Okanagan rinks vie for Brier berth in Kamloops
Four years have passed since Jeff Richard played in his first Brier.
Needless to say, the Kelowna curler would like nothing more than to make a return trip to the ultimate showcase for men's curling in 2014.
The road to next month's Brier in Kamloops leads through Vancouver this week, the site of the B.C. men's curling championship.
Richard, who is joined by third Tom Shypitka, second Jay Wakefield and lead David Harper, will skip one of 16 teams at the five-day event.
After playing with Brent Pierce last season, Richard formed a new rink this season and has had considerable success.
The Kelowna team qualified in all four events it entered on the World Curling Tour, including reaching the final in both Red Deer and Seattle.
"Tom and I have played together in the past, but for a new team with a new front end, we're really happy with the way things have gone," said Richard who won the B.C. title as a skip in 2010. "Hopefully we can put together a good week in Vancouver. With the Brier in Kamloops this year, you know everybody wants to be there, so I think you'll see even more teams than usual really prepared for this."
With the likes of the John Morris/Jim Cotter rink from Kelowna/Vernon, Brent Pierce, Dean Joanisse and Sean Geall competing, Richard said competition at the provincials will be stiff. But he's not limiting the contenders just to the aforementioned teams.
"I think this will be one of the more even years we've had," Richard said. "You could probably go as far down as the eighth seed in the draw and see a team that could win it all. Teams that pick up on the ice the earliest and get on a roll will definitely have an advantage."
On paper, the Morris/Cotter rink would have to be considered the favourites, based partly on their impressive run at the Olympic trials in December and their big-game experience.
Jim Cotter, who throws skip stones while Morris calls the game, said the local rink has moved past the heartbreaking final game loss to Brad Jacobs in Ottawa, and is firmly focused on the B.C. finals.
"That happened a long time ago, last year," joked Cotter, the 2011 and 2012 B.C. men's champ. "But seriously, we've moved on, we've been chatting about our goals from here on and our primary focus has been provincials. We're excited to go down there and see what happens."
The Morris/Cotter rink, which also features Kelowna's Tyrel Griffith and Rick Sawatsky, will open play Wednesday against Vernon's Mark Longworth, while Jeff Richard takes on Tom Buchy of Kimberley.
The final will be played Sunday, Feb. 9 at 4 p.m. and will be broadcast live on Sportsnet.