Jamie Koe’s run at the Tim Hortons Brier as skip of Team NWT will come to an end but not for anything that happened on the ice.
His consecutive appearance streak at the Canadian men’s curling championship will stop at 12 after he withdrew from the upcoming NWT Men’s Curling Championship at the Yellowknife Curling Centre, which is slated to begin on Jan. 28. That means it will be a new rink that will represent the NWT at the Brier, which will be happening in a bubble situation in Calgary this coming March.
In a statement published on his Twitter feed on Monday, Koe said the decision was made to bow out owing to the rule put in place by NWT Curling regarding withdrawals from the territorial championship. According to NWT Curling, Tuesday was the final day for teams to pull out.
That, along with the uncertainty of the event taking place at all – it’s still awaiting approval from the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer – was enough for Koe and company to saw thanks, but no thanks for this year.
“The ‘what if?’ was the big thing,” said Koe. “(NWT Curling) been struggling to get approval and there’s that uncertainty. There’s also the fact that it’s happening in Calgary, so we would have to isolate for 14 days when we get back. We had meetings with NWT Curling and they informed us about what was going on and we decided that if things didn’t change, we wouldn’t play.”
Koe said information was given to teams by NWT Curling that any team which withdrew following the Tuesday deadline would be subject to a potential one-year suspension from NWT Curling and all of its sanctioned events.
That was a risk he and his rink, which includes Cole Parsons, David Aho and Shadrach McLeod, didn’t want to take, he said.
“Our guys like playing mixed doubles territorials, mixed territorials,” he said. “The information we got was that if the situation around Covid-19 improved, any suspension would be upheld so we didn’t want to take any chances with that.”
Before making the decision to pull out, Koe said he spoke with his sponsors and they were on-board with what was going on.
“They supported us fully,” he said. “We need their support in order for us to play and travel.”
The withdrawal means there will be no Koe vs. Koe match-up at this year’s Tim Hortons Brier; the meeting between Jamie Koe and older brother, Kevin Koe, has been a highlight every time the two brothers are at the event.
Kevin Koe played at the Brier last year in Kingston, Ont., as Team Canada, the defending champions, and won the latest family duel, 7-3.
Nick Saturnino, NWT Curling’s president, said registrations were being asked for eight weeks in advance and the expectation is that any team which registers will move onto a national championship should they be successful at a territorial playdown.
“Our board made the decision to move ahead with territorial playdowns this season and it would be held inside bubbles,” he said. “Everyone was informed of that ahead of territorials.”
When it came to the deadline, Saturnino said it was about ensuring the integrity of the event as things got closer.
“As of Jan. 12, everyone knows the situation in Yellowknife and Calgary,” he said. “If a team wanted to continue on, then carry on. If not, then drop out by Jan. 12. We do have the ability to sanction teams but with Covid-19, we are planning on being lenient if the situation drastically changes.”
For example, Saturnino said if an outbreak were to happen in either Yellowknife or Calgary, that would have been taken into consideration with any appeal of a sanction or suspension.
“Teams know what’s going on,” he said. “It could change but if it doesn’t, then teams would be leaving it up to the (NWT Curling) board if they decided to withdraw after Jan. 12. That’s the issue. If Covid-19 becomes rampant in Calgary, we would take that into consideration if a team appealed but the situation is still the same right now.”
Jamie Koe’s withdrawal means just two rinks remain in the hunt for the NWT’s spot at the Brier as Greg Skauge and Glen Hudy are still set to skip their respective rinks. They will compete in a best-of-three series beginning on Jan. 30.
“It hit me (Monday) that I won’t be going,” said Koe. “I’ve had a 12-year streak of going and you always hope that if you don’t go, it means you got beat. I know NWT Curling has been working hard to get things going and I hope it happens because if it does, I’ll be there to shake the winners’ hand, whoever it is.”
Until this year, Koe hadn’t missed a Brier since 2009 and remains the only team from the North to make the playoff round, that being in 2012 when he finished fourth.
Only one jurisdiction has held a provincial/territorial playdown for the Brier to date – the Nunavut championship happened in Iqaluit this past weekend with Peter Mackey defeating Wade Kingdon in a best-of-five series, 3-2, to claim the spot.