Saskatchewan skip Mike McEwen hopes this Regina Brier is different than last time

Photo from CurlSask Facebook page. Mike McEwen will represent Team Saskatchewan at the Brier this year.

Taylor Shire, Regina Leader-Post

It was a wild week for Mike McEwen the last time the Brier was in Regina.

In 2018, McEwen and his Winnipeg team lost in the Manitoba provincial men’s curling championship but earned a berth in the Brier that year through the first-ever Wild Card game.

On the Friday night before pool play began in 2018, McEwen and his rink at the time — featuring third B.J. Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak and lead Denni Neufeld — beat another Manitoba squad skipped by Jason Gunnlaugson in a winner-take-all matchup. The Wild Card game featured the top two teams in the Canadian Team Ranking System that didn’t win their provincial championship.

McEwen and his team were the defending Manitoba provincial champions that year, but the Brandon-born skip was hospitalized during provincials and was unable to defend his title until he got released for the final game of the event.

“I had a little bit of a health scare during provincials,” said McEwen. “I actually got chicken pox as an adult and I was hospitalized.

“I came back for the provincial final not having played a game.”

McEwen lost in the provincial final that year to Reid Carruthers, but he still earned what was his third straight Brier appearance through the Wild Card game.

“It was a pretty crazy time for me going through that,” said McEwen. “I was definitely not at 100 per cent playing at the Brier.”

McEwen and his team finished pool play with a 5-2 record, which qualified them for the playoffs. However, after going 2-2 in the championship pool, they finished one win short of advancing to the page playoffs.

“I remember it being (a great event) but I sure would have liked to have done better,” said McEwen.

Fast forward six years and McEwen is back at the Brier in Regina, as the national event is set to get underway on Friday at the Brandt Centre.

This time, the 43-year-old McEwen will be representing Team Saskatchewan after he and his Saskatoon-based squad — featuring third Colton Flasch and front-end brothers Kevin and Daniel Marsh — won the SaskTel Tankard over Rylan Kleiter in early February.

“It couldn’t have been a better week,” McEwen said of provincials. “The team as a unit just played so well start to finish.

“We just got better each game, each day.”

Photo from the CurlSask Facebook page. Team Saskatchewan will begin Brier play at 6 p.m. on Friday night at the Brandt Centre in Regina.

The 2024 Montana’s Brier will mark the ninth straight Brier appearance for McEwen, who curled out of Manitoba for the first seven championships (he was also Wild Card in 2020 and 2021) before representing Ontario last year. He went 6-2 in pool play but lost to Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher in the 3-4 page playoff game.

This season, he joined up with the Flasch and the Marsh twins, who have been to two Briers before. Flasch — playing in his seventh Brier — skipped Saskatchewan at the 2022 event and previously won gold as the second on Kevin Koe’s Alberta rink in 2019. He also played with Steve Laycock at the event from 2014 to 2016. The team’s best finish was bronze in 2015.

McEwen’s best Brier finish came in 2017 when he claimed bronze, the same year he finished second place at the Canadian Olympic trials, narrowly missing the chance to represent Canada at the 2018 Olympic Games.

As a member of Team Saskatchewan this year, McEwen is the first person to skip three separate provinces at the Brier since Curling Canada introduced the import rule in 2015, which allowed teams to have one player from outside their province or territory.

“It’s not a strange feeling for me,” said McEwen. “Growing up, I never envisioned playing for anyone else but Manitoba.

“But then it just so happened that the team that I was on, we were the very first wild card team.

“So, I think that experience of still being from Manitoba but not fully representing the province, maybe in a way I’m a little bit used to it because I’ve been wild card a few times.”

This year, McEwen will not only be looking to win his first Brier, but he will also look to win Saskatchewan’s first championship since Rick Folk won in 1980. And McEwen believes this could be the team to end the drought.

“Flasch and the Marsh brothers just have a wealth of experience,” said McEwen, whose team also features three-time Brier and three-time World champion Brent Laing as the coach. “And then myself coming in, we definitely had high expectations early on for this team.

“I know we’re only have a season in as a new team, but we set some pretty lofty goals and obviously representing Saskatchewan at the Brier in Regina was at the top of the list for this year.”

Team Saskatchewan, one of nine teams competing in Pool B, will open the Brier on Friday night at 6 p.m. against Prince Edward Island’s Tyler Smith. McEwen and company will take on defending champion Brad Gushue and Team Canada on Saturday night at 6 p.m. before battling Alberta’s Kevin Koe on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Round robin play continues Monday through Thursday with the top thee teams from each pool making the playoffs on Friday. The championship match is set for March 10 at 6 p.m.