By Mario Annicchiarico
Sure, playing the seedings pool of the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier in Regina with just three men wasn’t ideal, but it is something Sean Geall and his B.C. men’s championship team will long remember.
With the spouses of lead David Harper and third Jeff Richard both expecting babies, Geall’s team – which included second Andrew Nerpin, alternate Brad Wood and coach Gerry Richard – knew exactly what they were getting into for the week.
Yes, it became complicated when Harper left after just four ends of his first game at the Brandt Centre on the opening Saturday.
It ended up being a false alarm and he attempted to return for Monday games, only to deal with a winter storm that forced him into Saskatoon instead of Regina. He made it to the Tuesday game where B.C. defeated Newfoundland and Labrador 12-6. But Harper was then called right back home.
Then once the team just missed out on a tiebreaker, losing 8-6 to Nova Scotia in the final round-robin draw in which Geall’s final shot came up just light, Richard headed back to Kelowna for the delivery of his first child.
That left the team to play with three in the seeding draw game on Friday, in which B.C. was defeated 12-5 by New Brunswick, including a painful seven-ender in the sixth. That result left B.C. 12th out of 16 teams.
“It was fun. We knew it was going to happen at some point, you just play with what you’ve got. We’re at the Brier, so we’re not playing against club teams. You go out there and take your chances, and sometimes you get licked,” Geall told reporters afterwards.
But he certainly wasn’t lamenting his team’s situation, as it finished 2-6, well behind his mark of 6-5 back in 2009.
“I don’t know that I’d call (the week) strange. We knew what was going to happen coming in, or at least we had an idea it was going to happen coming in, so we were prepared for what happened,” said Geall. “There’s no excuses. We didn’t play to our potential, and we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs.”
The team wasn’t far removed from a tiebreaker, however, even with all the changes and adversity.
“I thought we had that game playing that 10th end and we just came up a little bit short,” Nerpin said of the final round-robin loss to Nova Scotia. “We ran into a hot team. They played very well and we tip our hats off to them.”
This was Nerpin’s first time to the Brier and the experience will last forever, even with the changes to the roster.
“It drew a lot of attention to our team,” Nerpin said. “It was a dream come true (to play). We didn’t make the playoffs – that was our goal coming here, but we have to realize that these are the top teams in Canada.
“We knew coming into this that we would be in for a battle, no matter what our lineup was. This is why we play this game, to come in here and play these top teams in Canada.”
And now he realizes exactly what it takes.
“It was my first Brier so it was definitely a learning curve. Sean and Jeff had been there before and they took us under their wing and showed us the ropes and what to expect, to help us get through the week. It’s an emotional roller-coaster type of week,” Nerpin said.
“It’s a tough competition and it was good to have those guys help us get through and it’s only going to make us better for the next time we get to go.”
Wood, meanwhile, played a lot more than he expected, although he was aware he would play at some point. He likely set a record for play by an alternate, getting into all but the one full game Harper played.
“Everybody has been talking about that, that I might have set a record or two just in that matter, playing the most games for an alternate. Plus playing a game as an alternate with a three-man team was kind of different, too,” said Wood, who knew there was a good chance he would be busy. “I thought maybe one, maybe two games. I never expected the amount I ended up curling.”
Harper played the four ends in the first game before rushing to catch his flight home and then curled 84 per cent upon his return in the win over Newfoundland.
“I’ve had an interesting couple of weeks,” he said after the win. “I’ve flown around Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary and home, but we’re here and it was nice to get a win.
“She wasn’t quite there yet,” he said of his wife Jessica. “My wife said you need to go back and play a game and live out your dream. I wanted to get back for (Monday’s) game, of course, but we couldn’t land in Regina so we re-routed to Saskatoon.
“Honestly, I was just going to head home. I didn’t think I was going to get here, but the curling gods were with me and I was able to get here and live out my dream. We went into the game saying let’s have fun. We’re 0-4, let’s go out and throw rocks and have fun and it worked out,” Nerpin added of the team’s first win which was followed by another victory over Northwest Territories.
Once their fate was decided following the tough loss to Nova Scotia, Richard then headed home to be with wife Brooklyn Leitch, who was already a few days overdue.
“TSN had done a couple of quick stories on us and we just tried to block it all out when we got out on the ice,” Richard said of all the attention the team drew. “But when it’s something as important as kids and family, it’s tough to block it out all the time.”
As he said earlier in the week, both Jessica and Brooklyn had wonderful family supports in place and that made it a little easier to attend and play.
“Playing in the Brier is something you dream of,” said Richard. “This is my second so to be able to come back and play again was absolutely awesome.”
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