Competing in a national men’s curling championship is always a stressful and complex time for curlers. Teams work all year on communication, technical ability and a team based understanding of what makes the team perform its best.
Preparation for competition in the Covid-19 era presents yet another pre-competition challenge which teams must manage: the loss of teammates due to positive Covid-19 results. A requirement for competing in the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier in Lethbridge, Alta., is that prior to departure for the event, teams were required to provide a negative Covid-19 test to Curling Canada. Unfortunately, four players in the field tested positive for Covid-19 during pre-event testing, one of those being Shadrach McLeod, who plays lead for Jamie Koe and Team NWT.
“Losing Shad last minute wasn’t ideal,” said Koe. “Putting a new lineup in place for the big event isn’t what we hoped for.”
Team NWT was required to quickly re-jig the line up prior to their first practice this past Friday. Fortunately for the team, Rob Borden, the team’s alternate, was ready to slide into McLeod’s place.
“First and foremost, I’m still gutted for Shad having to miss the Brier this year,” said Borden. “I’m trying to make it (the substitution for Shad) as seamless for the team as possible. Luckily, having the familiarity playing with Jamie in the past helps.”
Borden was referring to his previous 76 Brier games at lead for the NWT, including the 2012 playoff appearance with Koe.
Koe also reached out to another former teammate to join Borden as part of Team NWT in the form of Tom Naugler, whop played with Greg Skauge in last year’s Brier and who played several years at third for Koe.
“Jamie called me at work and said he wasn’t sure what he was asking me but was wondering if I could do something last minute for them if need be,” said Naugler. “Next thing I know, my flight was booked for 5:30 a.m. Friday morning.”
Naugler was pressed into his own version of The Amazing Race: doing laundry, making arrangements, early morning flight and even calling into action Chris Koe, Jamie’s wife, who picked up Naugler in Calgary and sped Naugler to Lethbridge in time for practice.
“I made it just in time, quite a trip,” said Naugler with a laugh.
Naugler will sit in Borden’s place as the alternate for Team NWT throughout the event with Borden moving to full-time lead stone.
As a potential result of these distractions, the NWT is off to a rough start at this year’s Brier. They kicked off with an 11-5 loss to Nova Scotia on Saturday.
“We got a few better bounces than they did,” said Nova Scotia skip Paul Flemming in the media scrum following the game.
The second game was much improved and it appeared the Koe-skipped team had brought their game around. Quebec skip Mike Fournier and his team were in trouble throughout the game but it was a challenge Quebec’s fourth-stone thrower Felix Asselin rose to.
“In the second game, we were much more comfortable but ran into a hot Quebec skip,” said Koe.
The other Koe in the event, four-time Brier champion Kevin Koe is on a different and successful path and currently sits undefeated as of press time.
“We aren’t fully sharp but finding a way to win,” said Kevin on Monday. “As the week rolls on, we will get stronger (and) looking to peak during the playoffs.”
Preliminary pool play continues through Thursday evening. The top three in each pool will move onto a modified double-elimination playoff.