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This article was published 27/2/2015 (755 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
CALGARY -- It's still the biggest curling event in Canada. It's still the best-attended curling event in Canada. It's still the most watched curling event in Canada.
But what the Brier no longer is -- effective Saturday -- is a national curling event in which all 10 provinces fully take part.
That's because come Draw 2 Saturday night at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the 2015 Tim Hortons Brier will be a national men's curling championship without the participation of either Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia -- and, quite possibly, both.
To put the magnitude of this change into context, consider there has never been a Brier that has taken place without Nova Scotia, a charter participant and the winner of the first Brier in 1927.
It's been almost as long a run for P.E.I., as the province has participated in the Brier every year since 1936.
But all that tradition ends this weekend as a new era for the Brier begins in which the four lowest-ranked teams from the previous year must take part in a play-in round immediately prior to the Brier.
Only one team will advance.
This year, the relegated teams are Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and the Yukon. There was also a spot set aside here for a Nunavut team, but that territory declined to send a team to Calgary, just as they declined to send a team to a similar play-in round prior to the Scotties women's national championship in Moose Jaw, Sask., earlier this month.
At the Scotties, the two teams eliminated from the main event were both territories -- the Yukon and Northwest Territories -- while the first ever Northern Ontario team at a Scotties advanced.
The lack of a northern team in this year's Scotties angered some purists, who argued it's not truly a national curling event without at least some northern representation. But the howling is much louder here this week because this time around it's going to be a province -- and maybe two provinces, if the Yukon is the team that advances on Saturday -- that will be outside looking in.
Change has never come easy to curling. And this particular change, not suprisingly, is not playing well in the Maritimes, which -- with the exception of Brad Gushue-led Newfoundland -- has been consistently sending cellar-dwellers to the Brier for years and would appear to have the most to lose in this new system.
"I really don't like the change," P.E.I. skip Adam Casey said this week. "And if they were determined to make changes, I think they could have done a lot more to include curlers in the discussion. This could have been handled differently than it was.
"If they had to do it, there should have been more discussion. Because whichever teams come all this way to only get two games sure aren't going to get much out of it."
So why the change at all? Three reasons. First, with Nunavut now a third Canadian territory, there was a feeling something had to be done to allow all three northern territories the chance to fully participate in national curling events instead of relegating the territories to just one entry under the Yukon/N.W.T. banner, as was done previously.
Second, there was a desire at the Scotties to add a northern Ontario team -- as the Brier has had for years -- and at the Brier to add a defending champion Team Canada squad -- as the Scotties has had for years.
And third, organizers wanted to do something to ensure all the round-robin games, including the ones at week's end involving also-rans, are meaningful.
But as much as organizers wanted to make those changes, they also didn't want to swell the field to 15 teams from 12. So the compromise became a four-team play-in event (or three teams if tiny Nunavut continues to not send an entry) to determine the 12th team.
The pre-event qualifying round began at the Saddledome Thursday night with a game between P.E.I. and the Yukon that was still underway at press time. The Yukon will take on Nova Scotia this morning before the two provinces face off against each other tonight.
The two teams with the best records advance to a final that will be played on Draw 1 Saturday afternoon alongside regular round-robin games.
The winner will play for the duration of the round robin, while the loser is done.
While Casey isn't fond of the new play-in system, he does think there is at least one positive that will come of it. "The team that gets through the pre-qualifier will have a leg up, I think, by having already played three games before their round robin has started. They'll already be acclimatized to the ice and they'll have had a TV game."
That appeared to be the case at the Scotties, where a young northern Ontario team skipped by Tracy Horgan got off to a good start after winning the pre-qualifier and ultimately finished just one game out of the playoffs at 6-5.
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