The first time Tyrel Griffith saw a Brier live, he was a spectator at the Calgary Saddledome in 2009.
It was an experience that gave the Kelowna curler a true understanding of just what the Canadian men’s curling championship was all about.
“The atmosphere in (the Saddledome) was like no other event I’d been to,” said Griffith, 29. “What I remember is Glenn Howard making this impossible shot against Joel Jordison to win a game, and the crowd went wild. That’s the kind of thing that inspires you to want to be a part of that whole atmosphere. It’s exciting to be going back as a player this time.”
This weekend, Griffith returns to Cowtown for the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier, this time as a member of Jim Cotter’s B.C. rink.
Griffith is about to play in his third Canadian men’s championship, Cotter and lead Rick Sawatsky will each be playing in their fifth, while new third Ryan Kuhn will experience a Brier for the first time.
Last year, with John Morris throwing skip rocks, the Okanagan team came agonizingly close to a Canadian title, losing the final game to Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs.
Without the high-profile Morris calling the shots this year, the Vernon/Kelowna foursome may be slightly less conspicuous in Calgary than a year ago in Kamloops.
Still, Griffith assures the B.C. champs have the same expectations as always.
“Expectations, we carry those for ourselves, it doesn’t really matter what others expect of us,” said Griffith. “We’ve been there before, the other rinks know who we are, so we don’t concern ourselves with those pressures or expectations.
“We’re pretty focused, we’ve had good week and half of practise and we’re looking strong. We feel good going in.”
As usual, the Brier features a deep field of contenders, including former Canadian champs Brad Jacobs, John Morris (Team Canada), Kevin Koe, Jean Michel-Menard, and Olympic champ, Brad Gushue.
B.C. lead Rick Sawatsky has met each and every one of those teams in years past and knows will take a stellar week of curling to hoist the Brier Tankard.
“There are so many good teams, it just really depends on how you play for that one week, and see if you can get a few breaks at the same time,” said Sawatsky who, like Griffith, hails from Kelowna.
“You’ve got to go out there and battle and grind, because it’s a long week. It’s a matter of playing to our potential and if we can do that, then we have as good a chance as anyone.”
As for playing in his fifth Brier since 2008, Sawatsky insists the prospects of competing on curling’s biggest stage never grows old.
“It’s one of the premier events in our sport so you always look forward to it no matter what,” said Sawatsky, 39. “The crowds in Western Canada are generally pretty vocal and supportive and into the games, so it’s easy to feed off that atmosphere. We’re as excited to be going back.”
The Cotter rink will be put to the test right out of the gate on Saturday when they take on two-time Canadian champion Kevin Koe.
It doesn’t get any easier Sunday when the B.C. champs face Brad Jacobs and Jean-Michel Menard.
The Brier final is set for Sunday, March 8 at 4 p.m. Pacific time.