BRANDON, Man. – Cool, calm and collected Kevin Koe has done it again.
For a game that was one blank end away from tying a Brier record, the last shot of the 2019 Canadian men's curling championship will go down as one of the most exciting in the tournament’s long history.
The Alberta skip made a double with the last stone of the week to edge Wild Card’s Team Brendan Bottcher, 4-3, and capture the fourth Tim Hortons Brier of his storied career Sunday night at Westoba Place in Brandon.
“I didn’t know if we made it. I was waiting for them to hopefully start jumping around,” said Koe immediately following the game. “I mean great sweeping. They went the whole way on that. I don’t know if any other sweepers make that shot.”
Bottcher wasn’t surprised the 44-year-old was able to make the clutch game-winner.
“A classic Kevin Koe type shot,” said Bottcher.
After Alberta’s shooter came to a rest, it took a second to see if it had stopped soon enough. Once Team Koe realized it had, the celebration was on.
“To be honest I kind of blacked out a little bit,” said lead Ben Hebert.
With the victory, Koe joins Ernie Richardson, Randy Ferbey and Kevin Martin as the only skips to win four career Brier Tankards.
This is the second year of heartbreak for Bottcher and his young rink out of the Savill Community Sports Centre in Edmonton. As representatives of Alberta, they fell to Brad Gushue in the Brier final in Regina in 2018. The 27-year-old says these types of losses will always sting but is looking forward to the future.
“I think if we stick with it we’re going to win this eventually,” said Bottcher. “I’m not sure losing it two years in a row would be much different than losing two times, 10 years apart.”
Koe praised the young skip after the win.
“Brendan never goes away, we had him in trouble in nine,” he said. “There was so many shots he had to be perfect and he was. Not really a big surprise.”
Team Koe also becomes just the fifth rink in Brier history to post a perfect record in the playoff era, joining four other Alberta teams in Pat Ryan (1988), Ferbey (2003) and Kevin Martin (2008, 2009).
“That’s something I’ll probably reflect on in the future,” said Koe on the accomplishment.
This year at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Tim Hortons Brier, TSN revealed Canada’s Greatest Curlers of all-time after a panel of 31 writers, broadcasters and elite-level curlers voted on the best in each position, the best team and overall top 10 for both men and women.
The voters didn't put Koe in the top 10 on this list, but Hebert has him right near the top.
“I mean he’s top three, he’s ridiculous, what that guy has done in his career. He has one blemish not winning a medal at an Olympic Games,” said Hebert. “Well he won the Olympic trials, the hardest event there is to win. He’s won four Briers with four different teams. So who’s the common denominator there?
“I’m probably going to end up retiring with Kevin Koe.”
Koe won his previous national titles in 2010, 2014 and 2016, never sporting the exact same lineup. Overall, Alberta has won the Canadian championship a record 28 times, surpassing Manitoba's 27 with the victory Sunday night.
The game was far from exciting for a good portion with five blanks over the first seven ends. The record for blank ends in a final is six, set in 1989 when Pat Ryan edged Rick Folk, 3-2.
Bottcher tied the game with a deuce in the eighth before taking a 3-2 lead with a steal of one in the ninth.
All of it was just an appetizer for the Koe drama in the 10th and final end. His lead says Koe’s quiet and calm demeanor is a major key to his success.
“He’s a calm guy. Our conversations aren’t riveting in the hotel room or the car rides either. He’s a pretty quiet guy. If I don’t talk to him he usually doesn’t talk to me,” said Hebert. “But that’s when I know he’s in the zone and we have a good chance to win. He was like that all week.”
Team Koe will now represent Canada at the world men’s curling championships in their home province of Alberta as the event runs from March 30 to April 7 from Lethbridge.
The Calgary skip says high pressure wins will only help his team heading into the worlds.
“To win like that only gives us confidence going forward if we’re in close games in big situations,” said Koe.
Koe has won two gold medals (2010 and 2016) in three prior appearances at the world championships. In all of his international appearances as Team Canada (three worlds, one Olympics and one Curling World Cup) Koe has never played in his home country.
“Getting the chance to represent Canada in Canada is something I’ve never been able to do, so I can’t wait,” said Koe.
Brad Gushue fell to Sweden’s Niklas Edin in last year’s gold medal game from Las Vegas.
Doing it for Colton and BJ
The Brier victory is the fourth for both Koe and Hebert, but the first for second Colton Flasch and third BJ Neufeld who are both making their debuts with Team Koe this season after the departure of Marc Kennedy and Brent Laing at the conclusion of the Olympic quadrennial.
“Happy for a few reasons. Obviously two big ones, winning a Brier for Colton and BJ,” said Koe. “They’ll be Brier champs forever.”
Neufeld, 33, spent the previous 11 seasons playing for Mike McEwen in Manitoba. During their run, they never reached a Brier final with their biggest game coming at the 2017 Olympic trials, losing in heartbreaking fashion thanks to a game winning shot from Koe.
“We went through a lot of heartache on our team there,” said Neufeld. “It’s just so nice to be on this end of the spectrum as opposed to having to watch another team celebrate right in front of me.”
Despite wearing Alberta colours this week, Neufeld still lives in his native Winnipeg as the team’s lone out of province curler and felt the love in the pregame intros.
“I felt like the crowd was really behind me,” he said.
Neufeld’s dad, Chris, won a Brier with Vic Peters in 1992.