Editor’s note: It’s been a couple of years since Martin Gavin has been on the ground at the Tim Hortons Brier but NNSL Media’s scribe at the Canadian men’s curling championship is back. That’s because accredited media allowed back into venues. Here’s the first of his articles from Lethbridge, Alta. — the site of this year’s Brier.

The NWT’s pinnacle curler is returning to the national stage after a one-year hiatus.

Yellowknife’s Jamie Koe secured his spot in this year’s Canadian men’s curling championship, the Tim Hortons Brier, in Lethbridge, Alta., by upending the reigning champion, Greg Skauge, last month at the Yellowknife Curling Centre.

“I was really happy for those guys (last year),” said Koe regarding Skauge’s 2021 win of the NWT Men’s Curling Championship, which gave them the spot at the Brier last year in Calgary. “Their excitement about going was really motivating to me reminding me how much I love representing the NWT.”

“Jamie’s team was definitely the better team this year,” said Skauge, “They didn’t miss much all weekend (at territorials) and if they play the way they did in the playdowns, they will definitely sneak out a few (key) wins.”

Last year, Koe and his squad elected to step away from the territorial championship competition and withdrew, a difficult decision made for a number of understandable reasons including concerns related to the health and welfare of himself and his teammates at the bubble brier in Calgary.

“It hurts to bow out because I love representing the NWT,” Koe said one year ago.

Koe was back on the territorial stage with a slightly adjusted version of the team which won in 2020. Alongside the established front end of Cole Parsons and Shadrach Mcleod sits import player Glen Kennedy in the third stone spot, a position which often requires adjustments for Koe’s squads. This is Kennedy’s first appearance at the big show.

“We are the happiest for Glen,” Koe said. “He not only gets to be at his first Brier after so many years trying in Alberta, but he also goes to go toe-to-toe with his brother during pool play. Such an amazing moment for the Kennedy family.”

Unless a matchup presents itself in the playoffs, there is no Koe versus Koe game scheduled in the opening segment of the Brier as Jamie and brother Kevin Koe are in different pools of play. This year’s brother battle will take place between the Kennedy brothers. Glen’s brother is Marc Kennedy, who is a three-time Olympian two-time world champion and who plays third for Brad Jacobs and Northern Ontario.

Glen said he is looking forward to keeping his younger brother keeping in step.

“I have not played Marc for quite a few years and this old guy will do his best to keep up with one of the best players in history,” he said.

The Kennedy brothers join the Koe, Ryan and Howard brothers facing off against each other at Canadian men’s curling’s showpiece event.

Glen Kennedy’s connection with the NWT started when both Jamie and Glen were in South Korea cheering on their brothers as Team Canada in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“We definitely bonded at the 2018 Olympics cheering on our brothers (and) we officially named ourselves ‘Team Bro’ at the Olympics,” said Glen. “I semi-retired from curling this last summer to dedicate more time to my business and family, but Jamie reached out shortly after with a part-time opportunity that I could not say no to.”

Team NWT faces off against another Brier regular in its first game in Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming. Historically, NWT squads have not been kind to Nova Scotia teams, a situation of which Flemming is well aware.

“Likely the scariest game of the week and a key win for both teams to make the playoffs,” Flemming said. “I have played Jamie for over 20 years, going back to the mixed nationals in 1999 and while enjoyable (to play), he is a true competitor trying to scrape together as many wins as possible to make the playoffs like we are.”

The Brier begins on Friday with Koe’s first contest on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The format is a round-robin pool play against B.C., Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Quebec and two wild card teams with the top three from each pool making the playoffs.

Jamie Koe feels the playoff spot is achievable.

“I think there’s five teams we match up well against, so need to do our best to win those and knock off a giant to have a shot at playoffs,” he said. “We’ll be focusing game by game.”

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