Nolan Thiessen’s dream of representing Canada at the Sochi Olympic Games may not have come true, but his consolation prize turned out to be pretty good.
Thiessen, a 33-year-old former Brandonite who now lives in Edmonton, and his Calgary-based curling team skipped by Kevin Koe recovered from a disappointing 2-5 record at the Roar of the Rings Olympic qualifier to roll off five straight victories in the Alberta playdowns — including a 7-5 win over Kevin Martin — to win the province and advance to the Tim Hortons Brier. This will be the third trip to the Canadian men’s championship for Thiessen and he said the feeling never gets old.
"It definitely doesn’t," he said by telephone Wednesday. "We did the closing ceremonies (at the provincial championship) and they wanted us to go take some pictures beside the trophy and all four of us just kind of grabbed our purple hearts right away. It definitely doesn’t get old getting a purple heart."
The Brier starts on Saturday in Kamloops, B.C., and Koe’s team, which also includes Pat Simmons at third and Carter Rycroft at second, feels it is one of the squads to beat. The foursome lost the Brier final to Ontario’s Glenn Howard in 2012 — the same year Brandon’s Rob Fowler won a bronze medal — and the team won the event in 2010 with Blake MacDonald at third instead of Simmons.
This year’s field does not include Howard, who lost the Ontario final, nor defending champion Brad Jacobs from Northern Ontario, who represented Canada at the Olympics and won a gold medal.
However, there are still a lot of big names in the event, like three-time champion Jeff Stoughton from Manitoba, 2006 champion Jean-Michel Menard of Quebec, 2010 Olympic gold medallist Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador and John Morris’s B.C. team that lost the Olympic qualifier final to Jacobs.
Although the absences of Howard and Jacobs are noteable, Thiessen believes the event will be very tough.
"When you look at it, I think every other province sent their number one or two seeds," he said. "It’s going to be a strong field. Even the guys that were sent from the (Ontario regions) aren’t cakewalks. … I would think there will be a lot of tough games out there."
Thiessen feels that his team needs to get used to the ice and rocks to have success in Kamloops. He hopes to roll off a few early wins so Alberta doesn’t have to rally late to make the playoffs.
Thiessen feels his team is focused heading into the Brier and has one common goal in mind heading into the week-long event.
"We’re definitely a team that’s there for one reason, and that’s to win," he said. "We consider ourselves one of the best teams in the event for sure. We’ll try to win and try to represent our country at the world championships.
"I wouldn’t say it’s win or bust, but it’s definitely a situation where we have one goal and that’s to win the last game on Sunday the ninth."