Simmons seeking elusive Brier title

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Katie Brickman
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Koe representing Alberta in major tournament

The Kevin Koe rink made some history over the weekend.

Pat Simmons releases a stone during Super League curling action in October.

After a shaky start to the Boston Pizza Alberta men’s curling provincial championship, the Koe team finished as winners.

They defeated Kevin Martin’s team 7-5 in the final on Sunday.

“We were a little rusty to start, but it was good,” said Pat Simmons, third for Koe. “We battled through and hung in there … got a little better every game.”

Koe became the first skip since the current format was established in 2008 to win the title without first winning the A event final.

Martin went undefeated through his four games whereas Koe had to play eight games, qualifying through the C-event.

“Our games against Martin lately have been pretty good, so we knew it was going to be a good game,” said Simmons. “We got off to a slow start, but then we got things figured out just in time. It was just one of those games, similar to last year’s final that could have gone either way. We are happy to just come out on top this year.”

Simmons, a Moose Jaw native and his teammates Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen lost two of their first three games in the 12-team, triple-knockout competition. However, the team was able to use past experiences to get themselves in the games that mattered.

“It was tough, but it was a perseverance test. We were definitely rusty to start, no doubt about that, but we tried to fight through that and lucky enough that we hung around and gave ourselves a chance,” stated Simmons.

The rink opened the tournament with a 12-6 loss to Wade White, but then beat Lloyd Hill 8-2 before being put on the ropes by a 4-2 loss to Matthew Blandford.

Koe then rallied off four straight wins over Mark Johnson, Rob Schlender and Charley Thomas to reach the semifinal.

In the semi, they faced Blandford again, winning 8-4 to put them in the final against the undefeated and reining champions.

“All of teams played us really well … a lot of good, young players. I noticed a difference from last year in that the teams that we played have gotten better,” Simmons said on the level of competition. “They played us more difficult this year and that bodes well for the sport and for the playdowns in the province in the future.”

In the last five provincial championship meetings between these two skips, Martin had defeated Koe four times prior to this meeting.

Martin began the final strong, leading 3-0 after two ends, but then Koe gained momentum in the fifth end where he scored three points. Martin missed his final shot in the 10th end and Koe scored one to seal the win.

“In the final, in those last five ends, we played really well,” said Simmons. “I think we outplayed them a little bit in the last five ends.”

This was the first time in two months the team was back on the ice together after not qualifying at the Olympic curling trials in December.

“In December, we had a little bit of lack of motivation, obviously after working so hard to get to the trials,” he said. “But, we’ve had such a good year. Trials aside, it has just been a fantastic year for us.”

With the win, the Koe rink will represent the province of Alberta in the Tim Hortons Brier from March 1 to 9 in Kamloops, B.C.

Koe lost in the Brier in 2010 and the team will use that experience when facing the other top teams in the country.

“For us, it will boil down to how we are playing and what we can control,” said Simmons. “If we can play well, we should be around come playoff time.”

The Edmonton Sun reported that this team might face a rebuild for next season. Second Rycroft indicated he intends to take a year off and lead Thiessen may not be back either.

“I don’t think we will be putting more pressure on ourselves,” said Simmons. “If anything, we might be more relaxed and enjoy it a little bit more. Just play the game and see what happens.”

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