After a dramatic Scotties that saw high-scoring, wild momentum swings and Kerri Einarson's foursome win a fourth consecutive title, it's now time for Canada's men's curlers to take to the pebbled ice for the Brier.
Eighteen of the top men's teams from across the country are gathering in London, Ont., for the national championship — this year's field is as strong as ever with many of the best names in the game competing.
Teams are split into two pools of nine teams and will play each other once. After the eight-game round robin the top-three teams advance to the playoffs. The championship game is slated for Sunday, Mar. 12 at the Budweiser Gardens.
Brad Gushue and his team from Newfoundland and Labrador are once again Team Canada by virtue of being defending champions after capturing the title in Lethbridge, Alta., last season.
Gushue joined That Curling Show hosts Colleen Jones — a six-time Scotties winner — and CBC Sports reporter Devin Heroux to talk about how the team is preparing for the Brier. Fans can watch the new episode Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET on CBC Sports YouTube channel or on demand starting Friday morning on CBC Gem.
WATCH | Gushue, Hebert join That Curling Show to preview this year's Brier:
Gushue and Kevin Koe are both attempting to win what would be a record-breaking fifth Brier championship as a skip, the most all-time.
"The guys came here to St. John's for a few days of practice before we head to London," Gushue said on That Curling Show.
"There will be some game rust to shake off but we're all anxious to get going."
Gushue has played less events this season after a grueling last year. He won bronze at the Olympics before going on an epic Brier run that was completed with just three players after third Mark Nichols got COVID-19 late in the competition.
Gushue says he's needed a bit of a break this season to recharge and spend time with family.
Last month he was able to attend the U18 and U16 events that his daughters were competing in — they both ended up playing at the U16 event and met in the semifinal game.
"It was awesome and awful at the same time," Gushue said, pointing out how stressful it was on him and his wife.
"The semifinal game was wild. My one daughter was up three, then the other daughter scored six to go up three. Then my other daughter tied in with three in the final end. It was decided by a measurement. So dramatic. They didn't make it easy for me or my wife."
Gushue is making his 20th appearance at the Brier. He won his first title at home in 2017 and has captured three more since. He knows it will be a challenge to win a fifth title with a stacked field.
"There are so many good, young teams this year. And that's a great thing. And there are familiar names as well. I think curling fans are getting tired of the Koes and Gushues and are ready to see the next young teams that will be there year in, year out for a while."
Ben Hebert, who's making his 14th Brier appearance, is also on the show.
"I'm fired up. I'm always fired up after watching the Scotties and seeing the celebrations. The guys are ready to go and we feel like we're trending in the right direction," Hebert said.
Hebert is part of a new-look team skipped by Brendan Bottcher. They formed the new foursome including third Marc Kennedy and second Brett Gallant during this past off-season.
WATCH | Kerri Einarson ready to take on the curling world in Sweden:
Before the season began they decided they were going to spend a lot of this year tinkering with things to see how they could take their game to the next level. In some cases that meant not being concerned about where they placed at an event.
"It's been a long process but I think we all feel we're in a better place now because of it," Hebert said.
"I'm learning so much from these guys. I'm the old guy here now but I'm learning as much now as I did when I was young and playing with Kevin Martin."
Hebert was part of the team skipped by Martin that would go on to win Olympic gold in Vancouver.
Now he's ready to add another title to his name with a team he feels is capable of winning it all in London.
Final season for Hodgson
As many of the elite players in this country are ramping up for another four-year run leading to the next Olympics, one curler is saying goodbye to the competitive game.
Sharing his news first on That Curling Show, Colin Hodgson says this will be his last Brier ever. He's retiring from the four-person game after this season.
"It's been building up for a while and I just knew it was time," Hodgson said.
"I used to just want to go to one Brier. I didn't even think that was possible. Now it's my seventh. The lustre has worn off though and I'm curling for different reasons. It's hard. Everything is a letdown and disappointment if you don't win. There's pain that comes with that. And it's hard to win."
Hodgson made the move from small-town Alberta years ago to join forces with Reid Carruthers in Manitoba. The team would go on to play in countless Briers — it allowed Hodgson to travel across the country and around the world.
He's beloved by fans and well-known for his authentic nature on and off the ice — and his elaborate high styles over the years. Hodgson has been outspoken on issues in the game and is an advocate for athletes' well-being and mental health.
This past offseason he teamed up with Darren Moulding and Tanner and Jacob Horgan out of Northern Ontario. Hodgson and Moulding had been to the Brier many times before but the Horgan brothers hadn't.
That's what drove Hodgson this last season — trying to get them to the big show in Canadian curling.
And they did just that, winning provincials and earning the right to represent Northern Ontario at the Brier.
"Leading into this year, I had a chance to build something new and start fresh. We had a goal of getting Tanner and Jacob to their first Brier. We did that," Hodgson said.
"Having a front row seat to see their relief and their celebration was incredible. It solidified my decision."
Hodgson says while he's leaving the four-person game he still plans to play mixed doubles with Chelsea Carey in the future after some of his nagging injuries heal.
But now it's time for him to focus on life outside of curling. Hodgson is getting married this summer. He recently became a firefighter.
And now he's ready for this last dance at the Brier.
"I'm fired up. This feels like being a kid again. I've missed this feeling," he said.
"I can go out there one last time to share this with the competitions and fans. I found myself through curling. I didn't know who I was or where I came from. No one is perfect and I've made mistakes. But these experiences have allowed me to grow and move onto a new chapter in my life. I'm in a better place now."