Watching Curling: The Brier


The Tim Horton’s Brier is the Canadian Men’s National curling championship. Held annually since 1927, The Brier is often viewed by curling fans in Canada as the premiere event of the season, and is a big draw both for in person attendance and on television. This year the event will take place in Calgary, Alberta, from February 28 to March 8.

As with The Scotties, The Brier field consists of 12 teams, representing their home provinces as the winners of their respective provincial playoffs. In previous years, there was 1 team from the territories, 2 from Ontario, and 9 from the rest. This year, however, the format has changed and is more in line with The Scotties. There are still 12 teams, but for the first time the winning team from the previous year earns an automatic bye and will compete as Team Canada. For the remaining 11 teams, 10 have earned entry based on ranking with the 12th spot being determined by a four game play-in round-robin prior to the start of the main tournament.




After the play-in round-robin, the 12 teams will compete in an 11-game round-robin. At the end of the round-robin, the top 4 teams will advance to the playoffs. If there are any ties, tiebreaker games are played to finalize the playoff field. Teams face off following the page playoff system. The winner of the final game will then go on to represent Canada at The Ford World Men’s Curling Championships.


The Brier Tankard, awarded to to the winners.

The Brier Tankard, awarded to to the winners.


Now that we’ve covered the format, let’s take a look at the field for this year. We’ll start with the eleven teams that have already qualified.


Team Canada: John Morris, Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft, Nolan Thiessen



Team Northern Ontario: Brad Jacobs, Ryan Fry, E.J. Harnden, Ryan Harnden



Team Newfoundland and Labrador: Brad Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant, Geoff Walker



Team Manitoba: Reid Carruthers, Braeden Moskowy, Derek Samagalski, Colin Hodgson



Team Saskatchewan: Steve Laycock, Kirk Muyres, Colton Flasch, Dallan Muyres



Team Alberta: Kevin Koe, Marc Kennedy, Brent Laing, Ben Hebert



Team Quebec: Jean-Michel Ménard, Martin Crête, Eric Sylvain, Philippe Ménard



Team Ontario: Mark Kean, Mat Camm, David Mathers, Scott Howard



Team British Columbia: Jim Cotter, Ryan Kuhn, Tyrel Griffith, Rick Sawatsky



Team New Brunswick: Jeremy Mallais, Zach Eldridge, Chris Jeffrey, Jared Bezanson



Team NWT: Jamie Koe, Mark Whitehead, Brad Chorostkowski, Bill Merklinger



The following three teams will be battling it out for the twelfth and final spot in the main tournament:


Team PEI: Adam Casey, Josh Barry, Anson Carmody, Robbie Doherty



Team Nova Scotia: Glen MacLeod, Peter Burgess, Colten Steele, Rob McLean



Team Yukon: Bob Smallwood, Wade Scoffin, Steve Fecteau, Clint Ireland




This year the field is stacking up to be one of the most competitive in years.

Team Northern Ontario (Jacobs) won in 2013, but missed last year due to the 2014 Winter Olympics, where they dominantly won gold. Since then, they’ve been playing solid on tour and show no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Team Alberta (Kevin Koe) won the Brier last year, but opted to part ways with his rink after Worlds. The new Team Koe has had some ups-and-downs on tour, but they’re four great players with a lot of experience under their belts.

Team Canada (Morris) hasn’t played all that much this season, but they’ve done pretty well. Consisting of the members of Team Kevin Koe from last year and skip John Morris, this is another team stacked with skill and experience.

Team NL (Gushue) has had an outstanding season on tour.  Gushue and Nichols won an Olympic Gold Medal in 2006, so here is yet another team loaded with talent and experience.

Team Saskatchewan (Laycock) have done well on tour, but have yet to make noise in a Brier. This could be their breakout year for sure.

Team Manitoba (Carruthers) beat number-one ranked Team McEwen twice to win their provincial final. They’ve also had a solid tour season, but have never played in a Brier. They could definitely make something happen though.

And those are just the favorites. Getting to The Brier in and of itself is an accomplishment, no easy feat by any means. There is a lot of talent and experience in the rest of the field, and quite frankly you never know what is going to happen.




As with The Scotties, viewers in the US can watch The Brier thanks to a partnership between TSN and ESPN3. There will be a featured game for each draw, and full coverage of the playoffs and finals.

A full draw schedule can be found here:

ESPN3 Streaming:


philCPhil Darin is Windy City’s resident armchair curler and has the TSN Curling music stuck in his head from watching The Scotties. He’s also been known to actually play from time to time. Want to hear more about curling, whisky, or horse racing? Are you Eve Muirhead?






Bonspiels are More Than Just Curling

Although I’ve always wanted to, I have never had the opportunity to do much traveling.

That is one intriguing thing about curling.  When “The Big Spiel” was announced, I thought this would make a good road trip.  Rounding up a team, Windy City Curling made its way to Minnesota.

We lucked out in terms of weather.  Although, Phil was ready for anything.


We left on early on a Thursday and missed a lot of the snow storms that hit the area.  Only a couple bad spots.


The drive went pretty quick.  Lots of talk about curling, the hope of expanding our club, and some international curling (which Phil is an expert about).  The first hour of tunes went to Phil, the driver – meaning French country music.  None of us in the car, including Phil, speak French.  Most of the drive, luckly, was dedicated to 80’s and 90’s rap and hip-hop.


One of the highlights of the trip was heading to the Xcel Energy Center to see the Chicago Blackhawks square off against the Minnesota Wild.  Greg and Phil were in full-blown Chicago regalia … meanwhile yours truly is actually a Detroit fan.  So, I was rooting for Minnesota.

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For those who didn’t know, Charles Schultz (creator of Peanuts) was born in Minneapolis and grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Meanwhile, outside the weather was a bit nasty.  The Minnesota faithful were a bit late getting there.  I’m guessing at puck drop, the stadium wasn’t half full.

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It was really cool having Jessica Schultz from the US Olympic Team join us for the game!  Flashing back, I was able to interview Jess about a year ago for the blog.  We kept in touch throughout the year, and she was able to join us for the game.  The weather caused her and her friend Lysa to miss the first period, but they made it just as the Wild scored their first goal of the night.

IMG_0327 (2)Pictured (left to right):  Lysa, Jessica, Dan, Phil, Greg, Greg’s friend

It was cool to get to know Jessica more.  You could tell in her eyes and smile that she just has this natural spark for life, which was really cool.  She was heading to Honduras the week after on a mission trip – she works as a Physical Therapy Assistant.  Heard more about her future, getting ready for a half marathon on more.  Truly, an awesome person.  Everyone, stop now and go buy a Rock Life hoodie.

CLUBS AND FOOD (probably a little too much about food)
The Big Spiel took place in three different clubs in the Twin Cities area.

Four Seasons Curling Club
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Four Seasons Curling Club is the home of the US National Team Performance Center and Curling Night in America.  This was also the first rink we visited in our trip to Minnesota.  (Notice in the picture how the left-most sheet is empty — let’s just say the game went quickly).  The club definitely felt new, almost having the “new car smell.”  It was a great sheet of ice, and interestingly had sponsor logos in the houses.  I’d say that this was a distraction, but out team definitely had a bit of nerves (a bit of a theme for the trip).

But, lets talk about food.  The ongoing joke leading up to the bonspiel was the search for a Jucy Lucy (a cheese-stuffed burger).  We had one at Gabe’s, the restaurant at the Club.  The Jucy Lucy is a brilliant invention, as I’ve always disliked restaurants that throw a cold piece of cheese on a burger.  Gabe’s had some truly tasty food, including the gouda fries which one of our competitors had.  The walleye fries sounded good as well.

St. Paul Curling Club

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Eight sheets of ice for 1,200 members – St. Paul Curling Club is the largest curling club in America.  Although I have very little experience in curling, this felt like the home of curling.  This two-story club features a great restaurant and bar one the second floor.  Uniquely, this club’s second-floor men room actually had a window view to the curling ice below.  I was a bit worried that I’d accidentally step too far back from the ‘privacy wall’ at the urinal …

Now, my favorite meal of the trip — even surpassing the Jucy Lucy (yes, that’s spelled correctly) and the Walleye I had at the Wild game — was poutine.

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Bacon, gravy, cheese and french fries.  This was the first time I have ever had this tasty dish, and I put the half marathon training on the shelf.  Words can’t describe the deliciousness.

Our second, Phil, had a fun experience at St. Paul.  He had wanted the chance to meet US Olympic Skip John Shuster, who happened to be curling on the sheet next to us.  I’ll link to Phil’s story, in his own words, further below.

Frogtown Curling Club

IMG_0448Pictured (left to right):  Dan, Phil, Greg, and Nate 

We were only at Frogtown for one draw, but is the home of “The Shot.”  Take a look at the link below for an article written by Greg.

Frogtown is a converted-hockey rink that now is a dedicated curling ice.  We had heard throughout the weekend that it was going to be really cold at Frogtown – the curling ice is not insulated.  But, to be honest, Frogtown felt like home to us.

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With tables, lounge chairs and couches – it just felt like home.   Pinball machines in the corners, and I swear I saw someone had a 12-pack of Blatz.  There was a few people, underneath a few blankets, enjoying the competition up close.  The previous draw, including our friends from the Houston Curling Club, were watching from the warming room.

From a venture to Surly Brewing Company, a late-night ‘magic’ find of a Mexican restaurant at 3am (assisted by Siri or all things), and a hilarious stop for beer at a place called Dancing with the Sands (where I even was answering their phones on their behalf), the trip to Minnesota was a great trip.  We never even stopped on the Minneapolis side of the Twin Cities.  And personally, I still want to visit some touristy places like the Mall of America or even St. Paul’s Cathedral (which Red Bull was setting up a giant ramp for an event later in the month).

It’s funny, Phil kept saying how cool it would be to live in the area.  He’s not the only one who thought that.  Great job TCCA, St. Paul CC, Frogtown CC and Four Seasons CC.  Great job St. Paul.

Dan Mulka may not be the best curler, but he makes a heck of a chicken parmesean.  He is the owner of Biggest Bark Marketing and works full time doing the marketing for a local waterpark.  

“The Shot” by Greg Torkelson
“Curling Next To Royalty” by Phil Darin


Curling Next to Royalty … Stories from the Big Spiel

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Borrowed from Wikipedia.

After getting to Minnesota, I learned that three-time Olympian John Shuster was playing in the Big Spiel. With so many draws spread out over four days at three different clubs, it wasn’t even likely our paths would cross. Nevertheless, throughout the course of the weekend our respective teams were in the same draw at the St. Paul Curling Club. As a fan, I was hoping for the opportunity to meet and maybe get a photo with him. At the same time, I didn’t want to be “that guy” and bother him before one of his games, so I figured I’d keep my eyes open in the club area after one of those draws.

Sunday morning I was tired and nervous. We won our first game the night before, staying alive in the 8th event…aptly named the “clown car.” Win and we’re in the final, lose and we go home. I was sitting in the viewing area watching the end of the draw before ours, trying to calm my nerves and get my head set right. My teammate Greg commented on an attempted triple takeout in the match, saying that it was a nice shot but it was a shame that he only got two, to which I replied: “Well, you know what Meatloaf said: ‘Don’t be sad, ’cause two out of three ain’t bad.’ ”

This elicited some chuckles from some unseen people behind us, and one of the group said: “That’s a pretty solid reference for this early on a Sunday morning. Plus you actually made people laugh.” Without even looking back I just said “Yeah, I have my moments.” That was that, and pretty soon after we were on the ice and playing. It was a good game, but we lost and soon after were on our way home. I never ran into John Shuster, other than seeing him play a few sheets over from ours…or so I thought.

Driving through Wisconsin that night we were recapping our trip with one another. I lamented the fact that I never got the chance to meet John Shuster. At this point my comrades informed me that the unseen person who laughed at my joke was none other than the man himself. Somewhat incredulous, I asked them why they didn’t tell me, as that would have been a perfect time to meet him and get a picture. “We thought you knew and were just trying to play it cool.” they told me. “No guys, I had no idea…thanks.” I thought about it for a second, then just shook my head and laughed, realizing it would make a good story.

philCPhil Darin has a goal of opening his own clothing line of curling apparel, entitled “Loudermouth Pants.”  Want to hear more of his insights about curling, drinking, and drinking while curling? Are you Eve Muirhead?  

Greg Torkelson’s “The Shot”
Dan Mulka’s “Bonspiels are More than Just Curling”


“The Shot” from The Big Spiel


Bottom of the 9th, 2 outs, bases loaded, full count, down by 1 run…and, here’s the pitch…  Oh wait, wrong sport.  But, same feeling.  Intense, nervous, excited.

Yeah, that’s why I love sports.


Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 4.59.10 PMSo, our merry band of misfits were in a close draw at Frogtown Curling Club against a similar type Cedar Rapids team.  Good group of guys.  We had a big end early and took an early 5 point lead.  However, our “experience” started to show and they came within 1 point after the 7th.  Keep in mind, that the 3 of us from Windy City Curling have a COMBINED experience of less than a year and a half.  We go into the 8th and final end with the hammer.  After the first 12 stones, there is a pile of guards just above the house, there are several stones in the house and they are sitting two with stones in the four foot.  Their skip throws his first stone trying to put a third point in play.  He misses and runs it through the house.  It is now up to me.

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 5.08.45 PMSome quick back story.  Earlier that day, we played another similar type team from Texas.  Yes, apparently, there’s curling in Texas.  Also, a good group of guys.  We had an early lead and then blew it near the end.  They had the draw at Frogtown right before ours and lost to exit the tourney.  But, they hung around having a beer and watching their new friends from Windy City.  They are in the lounge area behind glass.  Important to note that Frogtown used to be a hockey rink.  Still looks like one, but is a converted to full time curling.  There are still boards up, without the surround glass.  This hockey reference will tie in soon.


There is a draw to the button from right to left.  The hole is big enough to get it in.  Nate, our borrowed local vice, sets the broom head down for me to aim at.  I know what I need to do.  I slide out of the hack aiming at the broom.  Honestly, I’m not sure if I hit the broom and we just weren’t out far enough or if I missed the broom and through in too far.  Either way, the result was the same.  Phil and Dan tried the best they could to keep it on line and get it past the guard wall, but, to no avail.  I put it right into the mess at the top of the circle.  As there may be sensitive ears that read this, I shall not elaborate on how I felt about my shot.  Their skip hops into the hack, now knowing exactly what I am trying to do.  He’s planning on plugging the hole I want to go through.  Luckily, he’s not perfect either.  As he slides out and releases, I watch the path.  I can tell he wanted to go wider that I just went to avoid the wall.  However, he went out too far and dropped left to right off of a ledge that had formed on the outside edges.  He missed plugging the hole!  At this point, there’s no need for a lengthy strategy discussion.  Outdraw them for the win or miss…again…and get knocked out of the bonspiel.  No pressure, right?  As I start sliding down to the end to throw, Nate profoundly states “Hey, it’s for the win!”  Really???  I didn’t notice.


Last rock of the 8th, up by 1, other team is sitting 2 for the win…and, here’s the slide…


Deep breath.  I push out from the hack.  I know I need to go out farther than my first stone but not as far as their last.  Nate had moved the broom accordingly.  As I release, the line looks good.  But, what about the weight?  I get up and start sliding behind the stone.  Phil and Dan with their brooms at the ready.  Then, BOOM!  Dan goes down!  I say something to him.  I’d like to think I said “Are you OK?” but, there’s a chance I yelled “Don’t burn the stone!”  (Dan was OK, by the way.)  Anyway,  I hop over the fallen teammate to take up the left broom spot.  The stone is started to curl right to left.  That’s good.  It didn’t hit the ledge.  Watching the line, we are also going to miss the wall at the top of the house.  Weight looks good.  Or, is it light?  Maybe, too heavy?  I don’t know.  I’ve only been doing this for 5 months.  Their vice takes his spot at the T line ready to sweep my stone out and past theirs.  As it enters the house, it starts to slow.  It just might stop!  As it passes the button, their vice sweeps feverishly trying to get it far enough out.  But, it stops.  In the four foot.  A couple inches at best closer than their closest.  I’m still not convinced.  I keep taking the bird’s eye view over mine and theirs.  And, mine and theirs.  We are closer!  We win!  The Texas boys start pounding on the glass to cheer like a bunch of crazy hockey fans! (See, hockey reference.)


It was an awesome feeling.  A true team effort.  And, a really fun couple of draws that day.  Can’t wait for the next chance to win it on the last throw!


Pictured (from left to right):  Dan Mulka, Phil Darin, Greg Torkelson, Nate Bock

Greg Torkelson skips curling, stops pucks, and makes homemade crokinole boards.  Surprisingly, he isn’t Canadian.  

Phil Darin’s “Curling Next to Royalty”
Dan Mulka’s “Bonspiels are More Than Just Curling”

Curling Night in America: What You Can Learn from Watching Curling

Like most Americans, I was basically unaware of curling before the Olympics. I became completely engrossed in the competition in 2014 though, even going so far as to wake up at stupid o’clock in the morning to catch matches live. My enthusiasm built as the games went on and never waned. Afterwards, I found myself wanting more.

So there I was, watching lots of curling yet never having played. The more I watched, the more I wanted to play. I found Windy City Curling, attended a learn to curl session, and soon was playing regularly. I was definitely an armchair skip…I could call shots and strategy, but could barely slide out of the hack without falling over, let alone make a shot. I kept at it though, and now I find myself able to hold my own…Kevin Martin I am not, but at least I look like I know what I’m doing.

Watching curling led me to play in the first place, and I think it has helped me to become a better player as well. The top players have excellent form, and I find myself emulating their technique, even if subconsciously. When it comes to strategy, I find I’m better able to visualize shots, and know what is and isn’t possible, based on what I’ve seen in matches. Besides that, I’ve picked up on how easy and/or difficult certain shots may be…sometimes it’s easier to nail that double takeout than to draw around a guard to the button. Conversely, I find that I enjoy watching curling more after having played for awhile. Playing has given me a better understanding of the game as a whole, and on a situational level I think I have a better appreciation of what it really takes to make a particular shot.

philCOf course, the players I watch are light years ahead of my skill level. However, therein lie some of the best lessons I’ve learned from them…everybody misses shots, everybody makes mistakes, and nothing is certain. I’ve seen some of the best curlers in the world miss “easy” shots, skips make foolish calls, seemingly perfect shots pick and inexplicably fall off line, and so on. Given this, when I make a bad shot or mess up it keeps me grounded to know that the best in the world do the same thing at times, and I don’t feel as bad about it.

Of course, outside of the Olympics curling is rarely shown on American TV. Most of my viewing has been on the internet. That is set to change soon as NBCSN and Universal Sports Network are debuting “Curling Night In America” this week. Curling always draws huge ratings in the U.S. during the Olympics, and this presents a great opportunity for curling fans to show the powers that be that curling can be a ratings draw outside of the Olympics. So, if you’re a fan of curling be sure to tune in, watch, and record the series. Live viewing and recording will both help with ratings, so it’s important to do both if you are able to. Curling is a growing sport in this country, both for players and fans, and good ratings for this event will only help to get more curling on TV and more often, which in turn will only help to grow the sport more.

Here is the broadcast schedule for Curling Night In America from NBCSN:

January 23, 2015 – 10 PM Central
February 6, 2015 – 10 PM Central
February 13, 2015 – 11 PM Central
February 20, 2015 – 10 PM Central
February 27, 2015 – 10 PM Central
March 20, 2015 – 10 PM Central

Here is the schedule for Universal Sports Network:

January 22, 2015 – 1 PM Central
January 30, 2015 – 1 PM Central
February 6, 2015 – 3 PM Central
February 15, 2015 – 5 PM Central
February 27, 2015 – 5 PM Central
March 13, 2015 – 2 PM Central

Here is a link to a press release from USA Curling about Curling Night In America:


Phil Darin is new into curling, but is an experienced veteran when it comes to Loudmouth Pants.  Want to hear more about curling, beer and music? Is your name Eve Muirhead? Click on the button to follow Phil. .