Curling fans are getting amped up for the Tim Hortons Brier, and once again Saskatchewan is pinning its hopes on the SaskTel Tankard winners to break a title drought that’s gone on since 1980. The event kicks off today in London, ON.
St. Gregor’s Kirk Muyres has been at the Brier both as a skip and with various teams over the years. Kirk knows this field is as deep as any in recent years, and he’s looking for a great event. He’s got his eye on Saskatchewan’s Kelly Knapp team, first time Brier participants, and thinking they’ll be in the mix.
“I’ve been watching Kelly for the last couple of years. He’s taken over the skipping reigns and he’s just got better and better - they don’t seem like they’re phased by much. They just go out there and play and make shots, and they’re a good team. Watching them at the Tankard, they didn’t get lucky. To win the province, they played better than any other team there and they really dominated.”
Muyres says if they continue their patient combination of shrewd strategy and shot making, they'll make some noise by the playoff round. It’s just a matter of staying focused in the face of bigger crowds and brighter lights. To their credit, there is experience on the team.
“Brennan Jones, who played in the Brier in 2011 with Pat Simmons in London, the same place as this year. Mike Armstrong has played at the Brier in 2012 in Saskatoon, so they’ve got two guys on the team who’ve been through it before.”
Muyres’ former teammate, Dustin Kidby, is the fifth and coach Brian McCusker has a Brier pedigree to round out the team’s national stage CV.
Needless to say, there’s a tough slog through the pools right from the opening with multiple threats along the way. New teams are beginning to gel in the post-quadrennial shakeup, and Muyres has his picks for who to watch.
“The one that sticks out to me is the Bottcher Team. No one was sure how that ‘dream team’ was going to play out, with Mark Kennedy, Brett Gallant and Ben Hebert. I think there were moments at the start of the year that they weren’t what everyone expected them to be, but in the last couple of months, they’ve come on.”
No doubt, Muyres has his attention focused on former skipper Matt Dunstone and his new Manitoba based squad. Dunstone and crew created waves in Saskatchewan both with their curling prowess and their connection to Saskatchewan communities like Wadena who played training host during the pandemic.
“Matt’s coming into his own. He’s 27-28 years old, he’s been through the wringer, he’s slowly got better, and his team has gelled better than I thought for the first year.”
Sports psychologist Adam Kingsbury has stuck with Dunstone as coach to help with that process. BJ Neufeld, Colton Lott and Connor Njegovin have all committed to the new squad after landing from previous teams, and the Manitoba quartet is currently the number one ranked team at the event, says Muyres.
Looking down the road, Muyres is set to celebrate the return of the Brier to Saskatchewan and Regina. The 2018 Regina Brier hosted Muyres, then with Dunstone, and ticket sales opening for the event is cause for celebration.
Muyres has turned his attention to the mixed doubles game with curling partner, Laura Walker. They’ve hit their stride in the sport, and continue their march toward a spot in the Olympic Trials.
“We’ve had a heck of a good season. I think we’re ranked number one in Canada and third in the world after the competitive bonspiel season. We’re headed to Nationals in a couple weeks in Sudbury from March 21-26. If we’re lucky enough to get through that, we’d head to Korea to get to the World Championship in April. But there’ll be 31 other teams at Nationals that have something to say about that.”
In the meantime, Kirk Muyres joins every other Saskatchewan curling fan training his eyes on the competition and camaraderie that is the Tim Hortons Brier.
Enjoy the full conversation with Kirk Muyres.