In a unique season, one compressed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it likely will take an extraordinary performance in order to win the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier.
So says Brad Jacobs, skip of the Northern Ontario champions.
For one thing, four Grand Slam of Curling events, competitions used by the best players to hone their skills, were cancelled. The coronavirus also caused a number of provinces to do away with their men’s championship playdowns.
That led to Curling Canada’s decision to increase the field of the Brier, which begins Friday in Calgary, to a whopping 18 teams.
And, in the interest of safety and health, all players, alternates and coaches will be forced to operate in a no-fan bubble.
What will it take to earn a gold medal at the conclusion of the 10-day event?
“The teams who can handle this whole bubble experience the best are going to have the best opportunity,” said Jacobs, who’ll be joined by third Marc Kennedy, second E.J. Harnden, lead Ryan Harnden and alternate Lee Toner of Sudbury. “I think this is going to require a level of mental toughness that maybe no team has ever had to dig this deep for.”
To that end, the Community First Curling Centre rink has been consumed with making sure its schedule is planned out in a way which can maximize performance.
Special attention has been paid to the players’ down time.
Coach Rick Lang of Thunder Bay and Arthur Perlini, the team’s Sault-based sports psychologist “have put together a really-good schedule for us,” Jacobs said. “We’ve been as proactive as we can.”
As an experienced, battle-tested rink, the skip talked about how he believes mental toughness is among his team’s many strengths.
“I feel as if there is no reason why we can’t win this Brier,” Jacobs added. “I’m extremely confident in my teammates, myself and our coach.”
With Ryan Fry playing third, Jacobs and the Harden brothers won the 2013 Brier in Edmonton, defeating Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton 11-14 in the final. In 2014, the rink grabbed gold medals for Canada at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Kennedy played in his first Brier with Team Jacobs a year ago in Kingston, Ont. The Northern Ontario champions began slowly with a 1-3, win-loss record. However, they fought their way back, winning six of their next seven to finish 7-4.
The Jacobs rink won two tie-breakers to finish in fourth place, before losing the 3 vs. 4 page playoff game to Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador. The Gushue rink went on to win the Brier, stopping Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher 7-3 in the final.
As pumped as members of the Jacobs rink are to compete again, the skip also spoke of how “we’re also just excited to be together again. It’s been a long time.”
Northern Ontario is idle on Friday, before beginning play with a pair of games on Saturday. The Jacobs rink is scheduled to open at 10:30 a.m. Sault time against Dustin Mikkelsen’s Yukon rink. Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen, skipping a wildcard entry, provides the opposition at 8:30 p.m.
The top three rinks advance into the playoff round with the semifinal and final scheduled for March 14.
“I think we’ve got all of the shots in the bag,” Jacobs said. “It’s just going to be a matter of getting out there, doing what we do best and hopefully things go our way.”