Intriguing Sweep 16 matchups kick off men's PointsBet Invitational
The first major event of the 2023-24 season has arrived with Curling Canada’s second annual PointsBet Invitational.
Sixteen men’s and women’s teams are set to compete in a do-or-die, single-elimination tournament with a $350,000 purse up for grabs from Sept. 27-Oct. 1 in Oakville, Ont.
The fields will consist of a wide-array of teams from Canadian champions and top contenders to club champions and a selection of up-and-coming junior rinks looking to make some noise under the bright lights.
Jennifer Jones and Reid Carruthers won the inaugural PointsBet Invitational last year in Fredericton, N.B., and will look to defend their titles with tweaked lineups in Oakville.
Four straight wins is what it’s going to take to stand atop the podium by Sunday. All teams will receive $5,000 to cover travel and accommodation costs and will earn more cash after each win, with the champion men’s and women’s rinks earning a total of $50,000.
This season is once again filled with a bevy of juicy storylines, including David Murdoch’s first year as Curling Canada’s new Director of High Performance and the start of qualifying for the Canadian Olympic Trials. Many of Canada’s top teams will use the PointsBet Invitational as their first major event of another important curling campaign.
Let’s take a closer look at the first-round matchups on the men’s side and who may have the best path to the grand prize.
2023 PointsBet Invitational - Men
No. 1 Brad Gushue (NL) vs. No. 16 Greg Balsdon (ON)
Brad Gushue and E.J. Harnden
Team Gushue (St. John’s Curling Club)
SKIP: Brad Gushue THIRD: Mark Nichols SECOND: E.J. Harden LEAD: Geoff Walker
Team Balsdon (Richmond Hill Curling Club)
SKIP: Greg Balsdon THIRD: Jordan Keon SECOND: Curtis Samoy LEAD: Trevor Talbott
For the second straight year, Brad Gushue and the Canadian champions from St. John’s, Nfld., will be the top seed at the PointsBet Invitational after capturing another Brier Tankard last season.
They’ll take on Team Greg Balsdon, who earned their spot after winning the 2023 Everest Club Championships.
Brad Gushue TankardsGushue, who dropped the semi-final to Carruthers at the last year’s PointsBet, will of course be the favourite in this contest. Do not count out the 45-year-old Balsdon, however, as the two have faced off before, including once on the national stage.
The native of Toronto defeated Gushue, 7-6, in his lone Brier appearance in 2014 – one of five wins he had that week - and has also competed in 13 Ontario Tankards in his career. Balsdon and the Canadian club champions won’t feel like a deer in the headlights despite Gushue’s pedigree.
Team Gushue's lone event of this season came this past weekend at the Shorty Jenkins Classic in Cornwall, Ont. They made the playoffs, but fell to Scotland's Team Ross Whyte, 9-7, in the quarterfinal.
Balsdon’s squad will need to make all their shots and catch a break or two, but if Gushue and company have any September rust in their game, a Sweep 16 upset could be in store.
No. 8 John Epping (ON) vs. No. 9 Ryan Wiebe (MB)
Team Epping (Leaside Curling Club)
SKIP: John Epping THIRD: Mathew Camm SECOND: Patrick Janssen LEAD: Jason Camm
Team Wiebe (Fort Rouge Curling Club)
SKIP: Ryan Wiebe THIRD: Ty Dilello SECOND: Sean Flatt LEAD: Adam Flatt
This matchup could be one of the closest games in the opening round of the PointsBet Invitational.
Both earned their spot thanks to their solid ranking on last year’s Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) as Epping finished ninth while Wiebe placed 11th.
Epping, who has been to three Briers in his career, fell to Gushue’s rink in the quarters at last year’s PointsBet Invitational while Wiebe will be making his debut at the event.
Team Wiebe lost the U25 NextGen Classic semifinal to eventual champion Team Rylan Kleiter earlier this month before making the quarterfinal round at the Saville Shootout and the semifinal of the Mother Club Fall Curling Classic.
Team Epping’s best finish this season was a semifinal showing at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard. They will have the experience advantage in this matchup, but as the seeds indicate, it could be anybody’s contest.
The winner of the match will play the winner of Gushue vs. Balsdon.
No. 5 Reid Carruthers (MB) vs. Johnson Tao (AB)
Team Carruthers (Granite Curling Club)
SKIP: Reid Carruthers THIRD: Brad Jacobs SECOND: Derek Samagalski LEAD: Connor Njegovan
Team Tao (Saville Community Sports Centre)
SKIP: Johnson Tao THIRD: Jaedon Neuert SECOND: Zack Davies LEAD: Andrew Nowell
Johnson Tao led his Alberta-based team to the gold-medal at last year’s Canadian Junior Curling Championship to snatch a spot in the PointsBet Invitational.
At 20, Tao will be the youngest male skip in Oakville and is set to take on the defending champs led by veteran Reid Carruthers.
As a fifth seed in 2022, the 38-year-old Carruthers defeated Matt Dunstone in the final, 8-4, after downing Braden Calvert, Kevin Koe and Gushue in the previous rounds.
Carruthers added the best free agent available this summer with Brad Jacobs joining the squad as the permanent replacement for third Jason Gunnlaugson.
In the early going this season, Team Carruthers missed the playoffs at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard and lost to Team Joel Retornaz of Italy in the Shorty Jenkins Classic quarterfinal.
Meanwhile, Tao and company had a very impressive showing against a stacked field at the Saville Shootout, making the semifinal where the lost a close 5-3 tilt to Team Brendan Bottcher.
Carruthers’ crew could do some real damage on tour and on the national stage this year. They will be the favourites in the Sweep 16 against Team Tao.
No. 4 Kevin Koe (AB) vs. No. 13 Rylan Kleiter (SK)
Team Koe (The Glencoe Club)
SKIP: Kevin Koe THIRD: Tyler Tardi SECOND: Jacques Gauthier LEAD: Karrick Martin
Team Kleiter (Sutherland Curling Club)
SKIP: Rylan Kleiter THIRD: Joshua Mattern SECOND: Matthew Hall LEAD: Trevor Johnson
Team Kevin Koe is another top contender with a tweaked lineup this season after the addition of 2023 British Columbia champion Jacques Gauthier.
Gauthier, 24, skipped Team B.C. in his first Brier appearance last year, but will play second on Team Koe as a replacement for the departing Bradly Thiessen.
Kleiter, 25, won the U25 NextGen Classic earlier this month to nab the last spot at the PointsBet Invitational. He also made the semifinal of the Alberta Tour Kick-off and failed to qualify at the ATB Okotoks Classic.
In their lone event of the season, Koe's rink defeated Team Matt Dunstone and Team Mike McEwen in the playoffs at the Okotoks bonspiel before dropping the final to Team Brendan Bottcher.
The winner here will play the winner of Carruthers vs. Tao in the Elite 8.
No. 6 Karsten Sturmay (AB) vs. Glenn Howard (ON)
Scott Howard and Glenn Howard
Team Sturmay (Saville Community Sports Centre)
SKIP: Karsten Sturmay THIRD: Kyle Doering SECOND: Glenn Venance LEAD: Kurtis Goller
Team Howard (Penetanguishene Curling Club)
SKIP: Glenn Howard THIRD: Scott Howard SECOND: David Mathers LEAD: Tim March
Glenn Howard and Karsten Sturmay are returning to the PointsBet Invitational for a second straight year with hopes of adding a few more victories.
In 2022, Team Howard won their Sweep 16 matchup against Quebec’s Team Felix Asselin before falling to Team Dunstone in the second round. Team Sturmay, meanwhile, was ousted by Team Colton Flasch in the opening round.
Now, the two sides will square off in a matchup that could really go either way.
Howard booked a spot to this year’s PointsBet as the 2023 Ontario Tankard finalists after Mike McEwen and the provincial champions disbanded this summer. The 61-year-old competed in his first Brier in 1986 and could appear in his 20th later this season in Regina if all goes to plan.
Sturmay, 26, won four events last season and made his Brier debut in London to finish a solid sixth on the CTRS. His rink could be a part of the next wave of top contenders on the men’s side in Canada if that progression continues.
Team Howard failed to qualify in each of their two bonspiels this season, including a 1-4 performance at the Shorty Jenkins Classic this past weekend. Team Sturmay qualified in two of their three events, falling to fellow PointsBet competitors in Team Aaron Sluchinski in the Alberta Tour Kickoff semis and Team Tao in the Saville Shootout quarters. They also missed the playoffs at the ATB Okotoks Classic.
This clash is a true pick’em with the winner set to square off with the victor of Dunstone vs. Sam Mooibroek in the next round.
No. 3 Matt Dunstone (MB) vs. No. 14 Sam Mooibroek (ON)
Team Dunstone (Fort Rouge Curling Club)
SKIP: Matt Dunstone THIRD: B.J. Neufeld SECOND: Colton Lott LEAD: Ryan Harden
Team Mooibroek (Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks)
SKIP: Sam Mooibroek THIRD: Kibo Mulima SECOND: Wyatt Small LEAD: Ben Pearce
Matt Dunstone was a win away from capturing his first Brier Tankard last winter, but couldn’t figure out the juggernaut that is Team Gushue, losing to the St. John’s foursome in the Brier final by a score of 7-5.
Now after a summer to reflect, Dunstone leads a Winnipeg rink re-energized and motivated to climb the Canadian curling mountain once again.
One of their first goals for 2023-24 will be to win the PointsBet Invitational after losing to Team Carruthers in last year’s final.
Their first test will be the USports champions out of Waterloo’s Wilfred Laurier University in Team Sam Mooibroek.
Seeded 14th, Team Mooibroek lost in the final of the U25 NextGen Classic to Saskatchewan's Team Kleiter after winning the event in 2022. They also missed the playoffs at the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard and the Shorty Jenkins Classic.
Dunstone and company dropped a quarterfinal match to Team Koe in Okotoks in their lone bonspiel of the season.
Mooibroek will be in tough here and needs a lot to go his way in order to pull out an upset. Expect Dunstone to make a strong charge at the PointsBet Invitational and throughout the entire season.
No. 7 Aaron Sluchinski (AB) vs. No. 10 Mike McEwen (SK)
Team Sluchinski (Airdrie Curling Club)
SKIP: Aaron Sluchinski THIRD: Jeremy Harty SECOND: Kerr Drummond LEAD: Dylan Webster
Team McEwen (Saskatchewan)
SKIP: Mike McEwen THIRD: Colton Flasch SECOND: Kevin Marsh LEAD: Dan Marsh
Another year, another province, another team for Mike McEwen.
After playing his entire career out of his native Manitoba, McEwen jumped ship to Ontario last year and eventually found himself in the Brier playoffs following an up-and-down season.
Now after his team went their separate ways, the veteran skip is leading a Saskatchewan-based rink that were in the Brier playoffs just two years ago in Lethbridge.
Colton Flasch will relinquish his skip duties to play third.
McEwen’s transition to Ontario did not go smoothly at first as they were forced to make a lineup change right before the Ontario Tankard, so we’ll have to wait and see how quickly chemistry can be formed with Flasch and company.
In 2023-24, McEwen’s new team made the semifinal of the Saville Shootout where he was ousted by the man he replaced in Catlin Schneider as well as the semis of the ATB Okotoks Classic where they lost to Team Koe.
It will be a tough opener at the PointsBet Invitational in the form of Team Aaron Sluchinski, who are fresh off finishing seventh on the CTRS in 2022-23.
Sluchinski’s rink will be in the mix again this year and could be contenders at Alberta provincials with Brendan Bottcher’s team locking down a Brier spot under the new pre-qualification rules.
Team Sluchinski have already won two bonspiels and have been one of the busiest teams this season coming into the PointsBet Invitational.
Could Team Sluchinski’s familiarity give them the edge over the newness of Team McEwen in this matchup? We will have to wait and see.
No. 2 Brendan Bottcher (AB) vs. No. 15 Jacob Dobson (ON)
Team Bottcher (The Glencoe Club)
SKIP: Brendan Bottcher THIRD: Marc Kennedy SECOND: Brett Gallant LEAD: Ben Hebert
Team Dobson (Humber Hawks)
SKIP: Jacob Dobson THIRD: Austin Synder SECOND: Noah Garner LEAD: Matthew Abrams
It’s probably safe to use the David vs. Goliath narrative in this matchup.
Playing in their second year as a foursome, Team Bottcher is one of the most decorated groups in curling with multiple Brier, World and Olympic titles and are coming off a season in which they ranked second in Canada.
Team Bottcher have gotten off to a great start this season with wins at the Saville Shootout and ATB Okotoks Classic against strong fields.
Meanwhile, Team Dobson were the winners of the Curling Canada College Championships last year and ranked 174th in the country.
The task is tall for this young squad representing the Humber Hawks, but the experience gained could go a long way in their development.
Team Bottcher lost to Team Dunstone in the semifinal at last year’s PointsBet Invitational and then fell to them again in the semifinal at the Brier.
The two sides could be destined to meet in the semis once again if they can both get through the first two rounds.
There's a strong case to be made for Bottcher being the top favourite to win this year's PointsBet Invitational.