Greg Smith may be a Brier rookie, but in one way, he has more experience that any of the other 15 skips who will be leading their teams at the 2018 Tim Hortons Brier Canadian men’s curling championship beginning today in Regina.
This is the third time in four years that Smith has skipped a team representing Newfoundland and Labrador in a national curling championship using the current Brier format.
He headed up the province’s entries in the 2015 and 2016 Canadian junior men’s events which were conducted in the two-pool format being adopted by the Brier for the first time ever this year.
Teams will represent the 10 provinces, three territories and Northern Ontario. As well, defending champion Brad Gushue and his St. John’s rink will wear Team Canada colours as defending champions, and for the first time ever, there will be a wild-card entry, skipped by either Mike McEwen or Jason Gunnlaugson.
Their Winnipeg rinks — the two highest-ranked in the Canadian Team Ranking System not having already secured Brier berths — squared off in a play-in game for the wild-card spot Friday night.
“But of all them, I’d say I’m the only (skip) with experience with the pool format,” said Smith, the 21-year-old who is joined on his St. John’s rink by third Matt Hunt, second Andrew Taylor and lead Ian Withycombe.
That experience brings the knowledge that his team can’t afford a sluggish start in Regina, where the 16 teams are divided into two eight-team pools and will each play a seven-game preliminary-round schedule.
“You need to be come out firing right away. That’s the biggest key,” said Smith. “There are no games where you can sacrifice a loss. In a 12-team round-robin (as had been the case at Briers for more than four decades), a team could start 0-4 and still finish strongly at 7-4 or even 6-5 and make the tiebreakers or even the playoffs.
“In this format, you have to go 4-3 at the bare minimum and that might get you a tiebreaker … and that’s just ‘might’.”
Without playing a game in Regina, Smith and his rink are already an answer to a Brier trivia question — Which team took over as Newfoundland and Labrador men’s champion after 11 years of Brier representatives skipped by Gushue?
Of course, that came about because Gushue earned a direct berth to this year’s nationals as defending champion — he didn’t have to participate in the Tankard provincials, where Smith went 9-1 in claiming the title. But Smith says he and his teammates are determined to prove they belong on the big stage.
“Undoubtedly excited,” he answered when asked about how his team was feeling on the eve of competition, “but we’re focused, too.
“The nervousness … there is a little bit, obviously. We’re human. But we’re more excited than anything, especially for the opportunity this represents, although I don’t think it has sunk in for any of us yet.
“It will when we walk in and see 8,000 people in the stands. I think that’s when it will sink in.”
He’ll get a chance to find out if he’s right tonight (9:30 NT) when he plays his first game against Brier veteran Jamie Koe and the Northwest Territories.
The other teams in N.L.’s pool are the wild-card entry, Nova Scotia, the Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta and Gushue and Team Canada.
The all-Newfoundland matchup between the Smith and Gushue rinks is Wednesday.