A curling team bearing a name other than Bottcher, Koe, Martin or Ferbey will represent Alberta at the Canadian men's championship for the first time in 26 years.

Aaron Sluchinski upset Kevin Koe in Alberta's men's final. Sluchinski's Airdrie Curling Club team is among 18 battling for a national title in the Montana's Brier starting Friday in Regina.

"It was huge for me and the guys," Sluchinski said. "Ever since I started curling I just wanted to play in a Brier. 

"It's the biggest stage in curling and that was my 11th try at provincials so it was nice to finally beat one of the big guys."

Four-time Brier champion Koe still gained entry to Regina as the highest-ranked, non-qualified men's team in Canada.

Kevin Koe

Koe ranked third nationally and No. 7 Sluchinski knew they were both Brier-bound in their final's fifth-end break, when informed of Manitoba's men's result.

Sluchinski was nevertheless proud to get his team's name on a silver cup that has long carried the names of Koe, Brendan Bottcher, Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey, and to also beat Koe twice in Alberta's playoffs en route to the title.

"We beat those guys in other events and stuff, but they always bring it at the provincials," Sluchinski said. "It's always so much more difficult when you play them to represent the province. So it felt like, yeah, we knocked off a giant there."

THREE ALBERTA ENTRIES AND A GUSHUE

The Brier field includes 14 provincial and territorial champions. Seven teams are ranked in Canada's top 10. Alberta has three entries and Manitoba and Newfoundland and Labrador each have two.

Brad Gushue of St. John's, N.L., returns as defending champion seeking a third straight title, as well as a career sixth for himself, third Mark Nichols and lead Geoff Walker, which would tie Ferbey for the record.

Curling Canada changing entry criteria for the national men's and women's curling championship pre-qualified Bottcher and Manitoba's Matt Dunstone based on their No. 2 and No. 3 ranking respectively after the 2022-23 season.

Gushue defeated Dunstone 7-5 in last year's Brier final in London, Ont. 

The teams are divided into two pools of nine with the top three advancing to a six-team playoff. Tiebreaker games were eliminated from the format this year to mirror world championships and Olympic Games.

Head-to-head results are the first tiebreaker, followed by the best cumulative score in the draw-the-button that precedes each game. 

The latter formula was activated at the Canadian women's championships in Calgary, where five teams tied at 4-4 for the third and final playoff spot in one pool.

The Brier winner March 10 represents Canada at the men's world championship March 30 to April 7 in Schaffhausen, Switzerland, and returns as defending champion to the 2025 Montana's Brier in Kelowna, B.C.

Sluchinski, third Jeremy Harty, second Kerr Drummond and lead Dylan Webster reached the Brier in their second season as a foursome, although Sluchinski, Drummond and Webster have been teammates for seven years.

But Drummond, who was born in Scotland, competed in his first provincial championship this year after receiving his Canadian citizenship in 2022. 

Sluchinski, 36, was a double provincial champion in 2024. He and wife Amanda will represent Alberta at the national mixed doubles championship in March.

ENERGY ACCOUNTANT

Sluchinski works as an energy company accountant, Harty as a corporate consultancy supervisor, Drummond as a sales representative and Webster as an IT project manager.

Other than four ends Sluchinski played as Bottcher's alternate at the 2022 Brier in Lethbridge, Alta., his will be a rookie team in Regina.

"That big stage, it's the only one in curling where you really get those big crowds," Sluchinski said. "I've been in the stands lots for those types of events. It'll be nice to be out on the ice steering the ship of a team there.

"All the top teams, if you look at them at the Brier, we've played all of them over the last couple years. We've had some success against them. We know what we have to do to win. We've got to hopefully bring it to that stage."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 29, 2024.