Bottcher Skins Koe for pre-provincial pump-up

Sherwood skip Brendan Bottcher is hoping to qualify through to his third consecutive Brier at provincials this week in Ellerslie. Ed Kaiser/Postmedia Network

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Brendan Bottcher hasn’t really been in need of a big confidence boost heading into the Alberta Boston Pizza Cup provincial men’s curling championships underway this week in Ellerslie, but he got one anyway.

The Sherwood Park skip and his team of Darren Moulding, Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin came away as the big winners with a victory over the big dogs in the Canadian curling scene when they edged provincial rival Kevin Koe with a draw to the button shootout and a $43,000 to $14,000 win in the TSN Skins Game men’s final from Banff last weekend.

“That was one great game,” Bottcher said. “I felt like we were a little nervous early, but the last six ends we played well. When we needed a big shot at the end we had it. That’s such a good feeling.”

In total, the Bottcher bunch collected $54,500 from the event.

“That was a lot of fun,” he said. “I was just hoping that we were going to go out there and play well and be a good prep for us for provincials. I just want to go to provincials and play as well as we can and see what happens.”

It is the third tournament that Bottcher has won this year, including his first Pinty’s Slam Tour event in January in Lloydminster.

Bottcher has represented Alberta in the last two Brier Canadian Men’s Curling Championships, making it all the way to the championship game in last year’s event before losing out to Brad Gushue.

However, Koe did not participate in either of those provincial cycles as he was wearing the Team Canada uniform as defending Brier champion and then at the Winter Olympics, leaving a bit of an asterisk in the books for Bottcher.

That said, the 27-year-old Sherwood standout has gone 2-2 against Koe on the cash circuits this season and is firm in the knowledge that his squad of sweepers can beat the champion curler.

“We lost the final of a Slam in Thunder Bay in November,” Bottcher said. “We won a World Curling Tour event in Portage. We lost the final of the Canada Cup to Koe when he made a phenomenal shot to beat us. Then we played a Slam in January and won that.

“I think all the big event experience we got last year has been starting to pay some dividends for us. Going into the Olympic pre-trials and succeeding there, doing well at the Olympic trials, winning Alberta again and the run we went on at the Brier was all phenomenal and gave us not only the experience, but that last little bit of confidence that I think we might have needed.

“Koe and Gushue have been doing this at an elite level longer than I’ve been curling. So you’re always underdogs against those guys, or that’s sort of how it feels.

“At least now it feels like we have a seat at the table.”

The provincial championships began on Wednesday and will wrap up on Sunday in Ellerslie, with Bottcher/Koe clashes expected to be the highlights.

“We’re going into provincials expecting to play Koe two, if not three times,” Bottcher said of the triple knockout format event. “I’m sure we’ll have a lot of battles. I can’t see it going any other way.”

Both teams will have a bit of a safety net in case of a loss, however.

Due to the controversial new Brier format introduced last year, there’s one ‘play in’ game on the night before the round robin begins at the Brier featuring the top two Canadian Team Ranking System points teams failing to qualify.

“If you assume that one of the two of us, our team or Koe’s team, wins this, then the other team will get the wildcard at the Brier,” Bottcher said.

“I’m not going to go into the provincials thinking about it at all, but it’s nice to have a backstop in case.”

• Sherwood Park is also being represented in the provincials by skip James Pahl. A 48-year-old in his 30th year of competitive curling and six-time Edmonton Super League champ, Pahl has made it to the Alberta provincials an impressive 13 times.

— With files from Postmedia Network