Organizers have already sold over 150,000 tickets to this year's Brier in Edmonton.
Based on the field that's now almost completely filled out, with a hometown favourite gunning for yet another championship, those numbers could easily swell into record-breaking territory.
With a roster of teams that are well-known fan favourites in the building, just about every draw of every day will see some kind of marquee match-up.
Kevin Martin (4), Glenn Howard (2), Jeff Stoughton (3) and Jean-Michel Menard (1) have, as skips, won 10 Briers between them.
They're all back, with a supporting cast of those who've yet to lift the trophy as skips, yet are well-known names who are - more often than not - lurking in the vicinity of the tankard as the final four emerges. Or at least giving fits to those who would be king as they jostle for position at the end of the round robin.
Newfoundland and Labarador's Brad Gushue makes his 10th appearance. Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs makes his 4th straight showing as a skip. James Grattan is back for his 4th try at the New Brunswick helm. Jamie Koe brings a Territories team to the show for the 7th time, after making the playoffs last year and falling to his brother, Kevin, in the 3 vs 4 game.
The holy trinity of Ontario's Howard, Alberta's Martin and Manitoba's Stoughton will be the favourites. None of them, as decorated as they are, seem ready to sit back and rest on their laurels.
Martin and his teammates showed their delight with some yipping and bear hugging at the conclusion of their thrilling 5-4, 11 end win over rival Kevin Koe at the Alberta Boston Pizza Cup Championship on Sunday. Never having played in a Brier in his hometown of Edmonton, Martin told Norm Cowley of the Edmonton Journal:
“I’ve never had the chance to do one of those, so it’s going to be a lot of fun. Everybody, I want to see you in Edmonton and cheering loudly.”
Martin displayed a certain amount of giddiness at the end of the game and has plenty to play for in Edmonton. If he wins it, he'll become the first skip ever to win five Briers. And he'll have son, Karrick along for the ride, as he's been named the team's alternate for the competition.
Howard might have his father-son connection going again, too. The defending champ could bring back son, Scott, as alternate once again, after the younger Howard filled that role at last year's Brier. The skip says that decision won't be made until later this week. After winning Ontario for the eighth straight time, Howard, like Martin, shows no signs of this opportunity being run of the mill, telling Sportsnet's Perry Lefko:
"It is just as special as winning my first one 26 years ago. I could not be more elated. I've got three buddies with me. They played lights out and lo and behold we won eight in a row."
Stoughton broke the heart of Mike McEwen - who continues to seek his first Brier appearance - in the Manitoba semi's, before going on to a win over Sean Grassie in the final. He seems as eager as ever, signaling that last year when he decided to release longtime lead Steve Gould in favour of younger blood, in the form of Mark Nichols.
The big battles get highlighted almost straight away, this year, with Alberta taking on Manitoba on opening night. After tangling with Martin, Stoughton then takes on Howard the following night. (Howard and Martin meet in the final draw of round robin play on the Thursday night)
Quebec's Menard, Brier champ in 2006, plays Martin on Sunday morning, and then Stoughton on Monday afternoon.
Rounding out the field are Nova Scotia's Paul Flemming, and newcomers Brock Virtue of Saskatchewan and British Columbia's Andrew Bilesky.
A Prince Edward Island representative has yet to be chosen.
UPDATE: Eddie Mackenzie has won the weather-delayed PEI championship and will appear in his third Brier.
- Sports & Recreation
- Kevin Martin
- Jeff Stoughton
- Glenn Howard