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St. John's team would love to record a pair of wins on opening weekend in Brandon
There is no such thing as a given when it comes to scoring victories, especially at the Tim Hortons Brier, but Andrew Symonds would love to see his Newfoundland and Labrador team sitting 2-1 after opening-weekend play in the latest edition of the Brier which gets under way Saturday.
Symonds, Chris Ford, Adam Boland and Keith Jewer, along with coach Craig Jewer, left for Brandon, Man., and the 2019 Brier Wednesday.
They are the Newfoundland and Labrador representatives after winning the provincial Tankard men’s curling championship last month at Bally Haly Country Club in St. John’s.
Brad Gushue and his Team Canada squad also left for Brandon Wednesday. Like the Symonds foursome, Gushue, Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker curl out of the Remax Centre (St. John’s Curling Club).
Team Symonds kick off the Brier in the first draw 4:30 p.m. (NL time) Saturday. Newfoundland and Labrador plays twice Sunday, against Northern Ontario in the morning draw (11:30 a.m. NL time) and later that night (9:30 p.m.) against the Yukon.
While Symonds isn’t taking anything for granted — and he’s certainly not making any predictions — opening with a 2-1 record would get his team off and running in Pool A.
“If we were 2-1 in any combination the first two days — you pick the wins — that would be an awesome start, for sure,” he said after practice this week.
“Hopefully, we can get a win in that first game. That’s always a boost, no matter the sport and no matter the event. You’re definitely going to have to be sharp against Northern Ontario. That will be a great tuneup going into the Yukon game.”
Entered with Symonds in Pool A is the winner of Friday night’s wild card game between Ontario’s John Epping and Brendan Bottcher of Alberta, who lost to Gushue is last year’s final. Former Olympic gold medalist Brad Jacobs from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., who’s been playing well on the World Curling Tour this season, Mike McEwen of Manitoba, Kirk Muyres of Saskatchewan, Quebec’s Martin Crete, John Likely of P.E.I. and Jon Solberg from the Yukon are also in Pool A.
The top four teams in each of Pools A and B advance to the championship round.
A glance into the crystal ball figures the wild card winner, Jacobs and McEwen will be coming out of Pool A, leaving Symonds to battle it out with Muyres, Crete, Likely and Solberg.
Likely has curled in two Briers for P.E.I., once as a skip.
That’s two more than Symonds, although the former all-star baseball player in the St. John’s senior circuit did attend the 2011 Canadian championship as Gushue’s fifth man.
Of the four curlers on Team Symonds, only Jewer — in 2006 with Ken Peddigrew’s 2-9 team — has curled in the Brier.
Ford and Boland both curled in the national juniors, and Boland skipped the Memorial University team to the Canadian university championship in 2017.
“We’re not the most experienced team in the world,” Symonds said, “but I don’t think we’ll be star-struck in Brandon.
"I know the teams we'll be facing are very, very good. Some of them are all-star teams. But we've got a pretty good team, too."
The Symonds foursome, sponsored by Crosbie Group, punched their ticket to the Brier by sailing through the 12-team triple knockout provincial Tankard with a 6-1 record.
Since then, they’ve been slinging plenty of rocks at the curling club, played a few Super League games and also played Team Gushue in a situational game — rather than go from start to finish, the teams played, for example, the ninth and 10th ends with the score tied or one team up by two.
“That certainly helped,” Symonds said. “Mostly, though, we’ve been pretty hard at it practising. Keith flew down last week (the coach currently lives in Ontario) which was good because it’s a little better structure when the coach is here.
“We had a great week at Bally Haly (at provincials). Obviously, we hope to keep that going in Brandon, but the biggest thing when we get there is getting a read of the ice.
“The ice surface and the rocks are going to be a lot different than what we’re used to here, not so much with the speed but with the curl and how much those rocks really grab and dig in at the end.
“That will be a bit of an adjustment. But if we can get a feel for that early on in practice and Draw 1, I think we’ll be okay.”
Team Symonds played in two bonspiels on arena in ice this season, going 1-3 each in Gatineau, Que. and Charlevoix, Que.