Howard breaks down new teams and what he expects at PointsBet Invitational
An exciting new season of curling is upon us with the debut of the PointsBet Invitational.
Sixteen of the best men’s and women’s rinks are set to battle it out for a purse of $350,000 in a March Madness-style single elimination tournament taking place in Fredericton, N.B., from Sept. 21-25.
Each field will include the top 12 Canadian teams on the World Curling Tour, the reigning Canadian junior champions, the reigning Canadian club champions, host committee-selected teams and finally a pair of fan-voted entries.
Teams heading to Fredericton will receive $5,000 to cover travel and accommodation costs and will earn more cash after each win, with the last men’s and women’s rinks standing earning a total of $50,000.
The PointsBet Invitational will be the first major event for many of the new teams that were formed this off-season at the conclusion of the Olympic quadrennial.
Action from Willie O'Ree Place gets underway Wednesday afternoon at 1pm ET/10am PT on TSN1 and streaming on TSN.ca or the TSN App. Check out the full broadcast schedule, HERE.
With so many new teams and storylines, it’s going to be interesting to see how everything shakes down in the Season of Champions opener.
Let’s take a close look at the men’s bracket and opening round matchups in the Sweep 16.
No. 1 Team Brad Gushue (NL) vs. No. 16 Team Nick Deagle (NS)
Skip: Brad Gushue Third: Mark Nichols Second: E.J. Harnden Lead: Geoff Walker
Skip: Nicholas Deagle Third: Jason van Vonderen Second: Rob Phillips Lead: Ryan Sperry
Breakdown: Nicholas Deagle and the 2021 Canadian club champions from the Bridgewater Curling Club in Nova Scotia will play on the biggest stage of their curling careers in Fredericton against one of the best skips the sport has ever seen.
The No. 16 Deagle rink will take on No. 1 Team Brad Gushue in the opening round at the PointsBet Invitational and will need some March Madness Cinderella magic to advance. Three members of Gushue’s St. John’s foursome are fresh off winning the Olympic bronze medal, the Brier Tankard and silver at the World Men’s Curling Championship (as a regular player in the lineup) last season.
It will be their first event with E.J. Harnden as the new second for the departing Brett Gallant. The winner of this matchup will take on the winner of the No. 8 John Epping vs. No. 9 Mike McEwen matchup.
No. 8 Team John Epping (ON) vs. No. 9 Team Mike McEwen (ON)
Skip: John Epping Third: Mat Camm Second: Patrick Janssen Lead: Scott Chadwick
Skip: Mike McEwen Third: Ryan Fry Second: Jonathan Beuk Lead: Brent Laing
Breakdown: The battle for Ontario men’s curling supremacy got a little spicier this summer after long-time Manitoba skipper Mike McEwen joined forces with a new team in the province. McEwen will serve as the import on the foursome that features former Team John Epping teammates in Ryan Fry and Brent Laing. Epping is teaming up with Mat Camm and Patrick Janssen this season after making the Brier playoffs in 2018. Epping's crew has two playoff appearances in four events while Team McEwen has one playoff showing in two events. McEwen and Epping go head-to-head in a toss-up contest to kick things off at the PointsBet Invitational, making it one of the most compelling matchups of the men’s Sweep 16. Winner will take on the victor of the Gushue vs. Deagle clash.
No. 5 Team Reid Carruthers (MB) vs. No. 12 Team Braden Calvert (MB)
Skip: Reid Carruthers Third: Jason Gunnlaugson Second: Derek Samagalski Lead: Connor Njegovan
Skip: Braden Calvert Third: Kyle Kurz Second: Ian McMillan Lead: Rob Gordon
Breakdown: Team Braden Calvert, who are entering their fourth season together, will look to use their familiarity with each other in their Sweep 16 matchup against the newly formed Team Reid Carruthers. Carruthers and skip turned vice Jason Gunnlaugson played three seasons together from 2005 to 2008 and are teaming up once again after battling each other in Manitoba for the last 15 years. Team Carruthers are quickly finding success, making the Leduc final earlier this month where they lost to Switzerland’s Yannick Schwaller in their first event of the season.
The curling vets are the favourites on paper, but Calvert, who was a Canadian junior champ in 2015, and company could be primed for an upset if Team Carruthers need some time to find their chemistry like a lot of the newly formed squads this season.
No. 4 Team Kevin Koe (AB) vs. No. 13 Team Jack Smeltzer (NB)
Skip: Kevin Koe Third: Tyler Tardi Second: Brad Thiessen Lead: Karrick Martin
Skip: Jack Smeltzer Third: Michael Donovan Second: Trevor Crouse Lead: Mitchell Small
Breakdown: Jack Smeltzer’s rink out of Fredericton were selected by the host committee to compete at the PointsBet Invitational in their hometown. They’ll get quite the test in the Sweep 16 with a matchup against four-time Brier winner Kevin Koe and his new squad featuring three-time Canadian junior champ Tyler Tardi at vice.
Playing in their first event as a foursome this past weekend, Team Koe ran the table before falling to provincial rival Team Brendan Bottcher in the final of the ATB Okotoks Classic. They might still need a few events to find their chemistry, but are near locks to win the opener and could make a run in Fredericton. The winner plays the victor of Carruthers vs. Calvert in the Elite 8.
No. 6 Team Glenn Howard (ON) vs. No. 11 Team Félix Asselin (QC)
Skip: Glenn Howard Third: Scott Howard Second: David Mathers Lead: Tim March
Skip: Felix Asselin Third: Martin Crete Second: Emile Asselin Lead: Jean-Francois Trepanier
Breakdown: The Glenn Howard vs. Felix Asselin matchup has plenty of intrigue, to say the least. At 60, curling legend Howard will be the oldest player in Fredericton in the men’s competition while Asselin, 27, is one of the youngest, and has already shown the ability to hang with the best, making three Brier appearances since 2018 for Quebec. Asselin will have full skip duties this season after serving as a fourth in 2021-22. Team Howard were one of the few top-tier teams to remain fully intact in an off-season of drastic change. It will be anybody’s game in this one.
No. 3 Team Matt Dunstone (MB) vs. No. 14 Team Greg Smith (NL)
Skip: Matt Dunstone Third: B.J. Neufeld Second: Colton Lott Lead: Ryan Harden
Skip: Greg Smith Third: Adam Boland Second: Chris Ford Lead: Zach Young
Breakdown: Matt Dunstone is back playing in his native Manitoba for the first time since his junior days when he won Canadian junior titles in 2013 and 2016. Dunstone’s new rink, which feature junior teammate and fellow Manitoba tucker Colton Lott, will take on crowd favourite Greg Smith and his new rink from St. John’s., Nfld., after they defeated three other teams in Curling Canada’s Twitter fan vote.
Big things are expected from Team Dunstone this quad, so it will be interesting to see how they play in the early going at the PointsBet Invitational. In their first event, Team Dunstone made the semifinal at the Okotoks bonspiel where they lost to Team Bottcher. Expect them to handle Team Smith and make a run in Fredericton. The winner of this matchup will play the winner of the Team Howard vs. Team Asselin matchup.
No. 7 Team Colton Flasch (SK) vs. No. 10 Team Karsten Sturmay (AB)
Skip: Colton Flasch Third: Catlin Schneider Second: Kevin Marsh Lead: Daniel Marsh
Skip: Karsten Sturmay Third: Kyle Doering Second: Kurtis Goller Lead: Glenn Venance
Breakdown: A lot of times a No. 7 vs. No. 10 clash is considered a “pick-em” and one could make the same case for this one as Saskatchewan’s Colton Flasch and his team takes on Karsten Sturmay's Alberta foursome in the Sweep 16. Team Flasch, who stayed together this off-season, are the higher seed for a reason after an impressive run at last year’s Tim Hortons Brier where they qualified for the playoffs amongst a stacked field.
Sturmay, 25, has a tweaked lineup this season, highlighted by third Kyle Doering and have already made a final at a bonspiel in Leduc in late August. Team Flasch made the semis in Martensville and Okotoks. This game could go either way.
No. 2 Team Brendan Bottcher (AB) vs. No. 15 Team Landan Rooney (ON)
Skip: Brendan Bottcher Third: Marc Kennedy Second: Brett Gallant Lead: Ben Hebert
Skip: Landan Rooney Third: Scott Mitchell Second: Jacob Jones Lead: Austin Snyder
Breakdown: On paper, the newly formed Team Brendan Bottcher are one of the most accomplished teams in history. The foursome is overflowing with national and international curling experience at its highest level, including a combined 12 Brier titles, five world championships and three Olympic medals (two gold).
Yet, the games still need to be played on the pebbled ice as Bottcher’s crew, who went a perfect 6-0 at the ATB Okotoks Classic in their first event, will kick off the PointsBet Invitational against some fellow champions. Ontario’s Team Landan Rooney won the Canadian Junior Curling Championship and should be giddy to play some of the game’s best under the bright lights. The winner will clash with the winner of the Team Flasch and Team Sturmay game.