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Veteran Koe looking to get NWT into Brier playoffs for first time since 2012

Jamie Koe Jamie Koe, Northwest Territories - TSN

REGINA – In a field loaded with Canadian, world and Olympic champions, it’s a rink from the North that’s stolen the headlines so far at this year’s Montana’s Brier. 

Northwest Territories, led by 46-year-old veteran skip Jamie Koe, is leading the way in Pool B with a 4-1 record.  

Team Koe, also featuring third Glen Kennedy, second Cole Parsons and lead Shadrach Mcleod, have taken care of business against Quebec, Nova Scotia and Nunavut, with the highlight of their week coming on Monday morning in the form of a stunning 7-5 defeat of five-time Canadian champion Team Brad Gushue. 

It marked the first time in Brier history that a team from the Northwest Territories defeated Team Canada. 

“We’re playing well, but we’re getting breaks. We’re getting some misses at key times so that really helps,” said Koe, who’s shooting a very healthy 86 per cent through five games, ranked third best among skips. “So, you take advantage of them when you can because they don’t come too often."

Koe’s only loss of the tournament came against his four-time Tankard-winning brother in Kevin Koe, who’s having the worst Brier of his career with a 1-5 record after Tuesday's loss to Nova Scotia. 

Koe’s sister, Kerry Galusha, has represented Northwest Territories at 21 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, with a lone playoff appearance in 2022. 

Despite Kevin getting a lot of the attention over the years thanks to his strong play, Jamie is no stranger to the Brier. 

The Yellowknife native is making his 17th career appearance at the Canadian men’s curling championship, the fourth most in history behind Gushue, Mark Nichols and Glenn Howard. 

With a career record of 46-115 coming into the Regina Brier, Koe hasn’t made a name for himself with deep playoff runs, but as a loveable everyman who can probably be spotted at the Brier Patch more than once throughout the week. 

Koe’s lone playoff appearance at the Brier came in 2012, also played in the province of Saskatchewan. Koe and company got off to a 5-1 start that year in Saskatoon, reaching the final four with a 7-4 record before losing to his brother in the page playoff 3 vs. 4 game.  

“We got off to a hot start there too. I think we lost one early, but then we rattled off five in a row,” said Koe. “Kevin was there and right alongside us the whole way. It was pretty cool. Then we had to play him in the playoffs. It feels pretty familiar, but we got three really tough games against tough teams. We are where we need to be.” 

Team Koe had an off day on Tuesday, with games against Saskatchewan’s Team Mike McEwen, Alberta’s Team Aaron Sluchinski and Prince Edward Island’s Team Tyler Smith still left on their schedule.

Koe has always had the talent to compete with country’s best. But with limited options, filling out a competitive foursome in the North can sometimes be a tough task. 

Kennedy is competing in his third Canadian championship with Team Koe and has been one of the best players all week at Brandt Centre. The 36-year-old Edmonton resident is shooting 89 per cent, second best among thirds and right behind his brother, Marc Kennedy.

Kennedy’s status for the Brier was up in the air as he missed playdowns with a hip injury.

“He’s on fire. He didn’t play playdowns with us this year because he was injured,” explained Koe. “We were a little afraid he wasn’t going to be here. We ended up going with three at playdowns because he was injured. But he’s really been rehabbing like crazy, and he’s come out and throwing 90s out there. I couldn’t be more proud of him with where’s he’s at with his recovery.”

Kennedy, who says his hip is feeling “pretty good,” knows this team has the potential to stay in the mix. 

“I’m from Edmonton, so I tell people back in Alberta all the time that this is four great players we have on this team. It’s just a matter of coming together at this big event and I think we’re doing that,” said Kennedy. 

Playing with the same lineup, Team Koe went 1-7 at last year's Brier in London. 

Northwest Territories is not the only unheralded rink in Regina who have made some unexpected noise. 

“It’s wild. I think it’s going to make for a really interesting last weekend,” said Kennedy. “There’s a ton of great teams here, even in that bottom half of the field, so it’s good to see.” 

Northern Ontario, led by their Brier rookie skip Trevor Bonot, and PEI’s Team Smith were both 4-1 heading into Tuesday's evening draw. 

“I’m only a rookie skip at the Brier,” said Bonot, a Canadian mixed champion. “I’ve skipped a lot of games in my life, so I think that’s the difference. I’ve still played a lot and I know how to throw a rock. I think about it in that way. It’s just another game.”

E.J. Harnden, second for Canada’s Team Gushue, says the results are good indicator of the parity in Canadian curling. 

“I think it’s good to see,” said Harnden. “Some of the upsets going on, keeping everyone sharp and having to be precise. I think that makes for a good experience for the fans here watching and the ones watching on TV as well.”

The top three teams from each pool will advance to the playoff following the conclusion of round-robin play on Thursday.

New job 

Not only is Koe having one of the best weeks of curling in his career, but he’s also found new fulfillment in his work life. 

After working for the Government of Northwest Territories for nearly two decades, Koe took a job as the Chief Operating Officer for the Gwich'in Tribal Council in June. 

“To do health and wellness, education, building houses, things like that. It’s really front line and can make a difference for our Gwich'in people,” said the father and husband of two. “It’s really important to me. It something dear to my heart. Just seeing what we can do to make a difference for our Gwich'in participants. It’s amazing. It’s really satisfying.”

Koe lives in Edmonton, but says spends half his time in Inuvik, supporting the Gwich'in people.