If there’s one thing Iqaluit’s Peter Mackey has over the rest of the country right now, it’s the claim of being the only skip to date to win his way to the Tim Hortons Brier.
Mackey and his rink of Jeff Nadeau, Greg Howard and Jeff Chown will wear the territory’s colours at the 2021 edition of the Canadian men’s curling championship in Calgary this coming March after winning the territorial championship at the Iqaluit Curling Club on Jan. 10 thanks to a 10-6 win over the rink skipped by Wade Kingdon.
They were the only two rinks which entered the bonspiel, meaning a best-of-five series would determine the winner. Mackey’s victory gave him a 3-2 overall win, finishing off a comeback from 2-0 down.
“The two previous years I’ve won, our team has been two down,” said Mackey. “We lost our first game and I look at Jeff (Nadeau) and said ‘again?’.”
You’d think Mackey would bear down and get in some practice on the ice to fix what ailed him after dropping the opening two games.
He did practice … with his darts.
“Jeff and I did what we’ve done before: we got to the club early Saturday morning and threw darts for about two hours before the first game (of the day),” he said. “We won that one, threw some more darts before the next game and we won that one. We played before the third game and we won that one.”
The deciding contest saw Kingdon jump out to a 5-1 lead after four ends but the game turned in the fifth end as Mackey capitalized on an open takeout to score four and tie the game at 5-5 at the mid-game break.
Both teams traded singles in ends six and seven before Mackey’s dagger in the eighth end. Without the hammer (last rock), Mackey sat three in the house, forcing Kingdon to draw simply to score a single. Kingdon’s last rock came up short, giving Mackey a steal of three to put him up, 9-6.
Mackey didn’t even have to throw his skip stones in the 10th and final end as he ran Kingdon out of rocks.
“That steal of three was bigger than the four we got in the fifth,” said Mackey. “The four tied the game but the steal gave us the advantage and that forced Wade to play a bit more aggressive to get back into it.”
With the ticket punched for Calgary, the focus now turns to what happens in the time leading up to the start of the Brier. Like other sports, the Brier will be played inside a bubble with players playing their games and going right back to the hotel with no sightseeing and no mingling between rooms.
Even the popular Brier Patch will fall victim to Covid-19 this year as that’s been given the boot.
The foursome won’t have to isolate before heading down to Calgary and there may be an outside chance that they could get the vaccine before they leave.
“Our names are on the list for when it comes to Iqaluit so fingers crossed,” said Mackey. “There isn’t any concern about travel because we haven’t had one case of Covid-19 in Iqaluit to date so we’ve been really lucky.”
As mentioned, Nunavut is the only jurisdiction in the country which has hosted a playdown of any sort for the Brier; the NWT is scheduled to host its playdowns on Jan. 30 and 31 but approval from the territory’s chief public health officer has yet to be given for it to happen.
With this year’s Brier being held differently than past years, does Mackey think he and his rink can spring a surprise or two?
He said the expectations are “reasonable.”
“I’d like to think we could pull off a surprise but the provinces who aren’t having playdowns are sending their champions from last year,” he said. “They won’t be club-level curlers by any means, they’ll be at a rather high level.”
Mackey and Nadeau will be competing in their third Brier but it will be the first time for either at the skip or third positions. Howard has been to the Brier before, albeit in 2017 when the final year of the much-maligned pre-qualification round was held while Chown will be making his Brier debut.
“The biggest thing for us is to help grow the game here,” said Mackey. “We’re looking to give the game more exposure and get more people out playing. We’ve had an increase in our Little Rocks (youth development) program and the numbers for that, along with the Learn-To-Curl program, exceeds the number adults we have playing. I hope that trend continues.”