Reigning NWT curling champion Jamie Koe’s team will not compete in this year’s territorial playdowns, almost certainly ending their chances of representing the Northwest Territories at the 2021 Brier in Calgary.
In a letter to the NWT Curling Association (NWTCA) shared on Twitter, Koe – brother of fellow curling heavyweights Kevin Koe and Kerry Galusha – stated his team had formally withdrawn from the territory’s men’s curling championship, set for the end of January.
“Our team was hoping to compete in the NWT curling championships with the intention of competing in the 2021 Tim Hortons Brier, giving us the opportunity to represent both our sponsors and our home territory,” the letter said.
In an interview with Cabin Radio, Koe elaborated on the team’s decision, citing uncertainty surrounding Covid-19 and the threat of potential sanctioning if the team had to pull out of the competition at a later date.
“We were required to make a decision by today (January 12) to either continue on, and if you continue on and you pull out at any point, you’d be subject to suspension for a year,” he said.
“Obviously, wanting to play any other playdowns that may come up later this year or next year, we thought it was best if we just withdrew to preserve our right to curl next year.”
Koe has won the NWT championship for 12 years in a row and has competed in the Brier – the Canadian men’s curling championship – 14 times.
In 2012 he led the NWT team to the playoffs, the first team from Canada’s North to progress that far in the tournament.
Koe said the decision to withdraw was difficult and he is disappointed he won’t get to compete this year.
“It kind-of hurts to bow out, because I love representing the NWT and I’ve done it so much,” he said.
The NWTCA has tentatively scheduled the NWT men’s and women’s championships for January 28 to determine who will represent the territory at the Brier and Scotties this year.
Though the organization is awaiting approval from health authorities to host the competitions, president Nick Saturnino said he’s “optimistic” the plans will be approved and expects a response by January 18 at the latest.
“It’s a good sign that there are no Covid cases as of this moment,” he said.
Saturnino said the NWTCA has been working to keep players in the loop about the pandemic and what it means for competitive curling in the territory.
“We’ve had a few information sessions with our championship director and all the teams, just trying to keep the teams updated on the current situation in regard to what’s happening with our championships – and of course, what Curling Canada has planned in Calgary,” he said.
As it stands, the 2021 Brier will take place in the Albertan city within a “curling bubble” at the Canada Olympic Park. That bubble will also include women’s tournament the Scotties, men’s world championships, and mixed doubles national championships.
The competitions are loosely scheduled for some time in either February or March.
Should the NWT’s health authority not approve the NWTCA’s plans for the end of January, Saturnino said the organization will look to last year’s champion – which happens to be Koe – to represent the NWT in the Brier, if they would like to.
Koe said the team would likely re-evaluate the situation if this happens.
In the meantime, Koe said he is looking forward to getting back on the ice and doing what he loves.
“I think we’re just hoping that vaccines roll out in the south and here, and things somewhat return to normal,” he said, “so that we can start travelling again to compete.”