Without the high-profile John Morris throwing skip rocks, Jim Cotter’s rink was a little less conspicuous during the 2014-15 curling season.
But that doesn’t mean the Vernon/Kelowna foursome is any less motivated or qualified to take a run at its fourth B.C. men’s curling championship in five years.
Cotter, new third Ryan Kuhn, second Tyrel Griffith and lead Rick Sawatsky will be among the favourites in the 16-rink field of the 2015 provincials beginning Tuesday at the Vernon Curling Club.
While the newly-configured team started the season slowly, the Cotter rink finished strong, including reaching the playoff round at the Canadian Open in Yorkton.
“It’s always tricky when you start a season with new players, you kind of need to find your niche as a team,” said Griffith, who will be playing at his third provincials. “About halfway through (the Canada Cup in Canmore) we started to do that, we won a couple of big games and really started to gain momentum. We just got stronger in Yorkton, so hopefully that will carry over into provincials.”
With Morris at skip last year, the Okanagan team won the B.C. crown, then fell just a step short of a national title, losing to Alberta’s Kevin Koe in the Brier final.
Based on experience, past successes and home cooking in Vernon, expectations for the Cotter rink will be high.
But with former B.C. champs Brent Pierce, Dean Joanisse and Sean Geall—among several others—in the field, Griffiths said nothing will come easy.
“There are a lot of good teams in B.C., and this is probably the deepest field yet. Teams always seem to get up to play us, so we’ll have to be sharp. I’d say any one of six or seven teams could potentially be there at the end of the week.”
Kelowna’s Jeff Richard—the 2010 B.C. champ—will once again play third for the Brent Pierce rink, with Kelowna’s Tyler Orme and Dave Harper taking care of the front end.
Richard and Pierce were provincial runners-up together in both 2012 and 2013.
After a solid season on the cash circuit which saw the Kelowna rink win a WCT event in Kamloops and placed second in Estevan, Richard likes his team’s odds of contending for a title.
“We definitely feel confident, we know we can play to the level of the other top teams,” said Richard. “The challenge is that there are so many good teams out there. It’s all about who gets hot at the right time, you saw that at the (B.C.) women’s where (Patti) Knezevic got on a roll and took it all the way to the title.
“Hopefully that will be us.”
Another Kelowna curler, Kevin MacKenzie, hopes to win his first B.C. men’s title in 12 years.
MacKenzie, who will be throwing fourth rocks for Maple Ridge’s Grant Dezura, played with Pat Ryan’s provincial championship teams in 2002 and 2003.
The Dezura rink, also featuring Kelowna’s Jamie Smith, had an impressive season on the World Curling Tour, winning the Cloverdale and Vernon events, while reaching the semis in Kamloops and Red Deer, to collect more than $19,000 in earnings.
Kelowna’s Russ Koffski will also be in Vernon, playing third for Darren Nelson’s Kamloops rink.
The B.C. men’s championship in Vernon is a triple-knockout with a Page playoff format.
The final game will be played Sunday, Feb. 8 at 2 p.m.