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B.C.-champion Victoria rink hoping for 'home-ice' advantage at the Brier

Action in Regina begins on Friday
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Skip Catlin Schneider guided his Victoria Curling Club rink to the B.C. championship last month at Archie Browning Sports Centre. (DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST)

There will be an unusual amount of cheering for the B.C.-champion Victoria Curling Club team at the 2024 Montana’s Brier, which begins today. Unusual because the event is in Regina.

That’s what happens when your skip, Catlin Schneider, is a hometown guy. Not hometown as in Victoria, but Regina. That is the way of modern curling, with rinks that are amalgams from everywhere. There will certainly be conflicting emotions, too, with the host Saskatchewan-champion rink skipped by veteran Manitoba curler Mike McEwan.

“Catlin [Schneider] has a lot of family and workmates in the area,” said Alex Horvath, lead of the VCC rink.

“It’s going to feel a bit like a hometown Victoria Brier.”

One person who can’t be in Regina for the event but will follow it intently is Horvath’s mother, Dawn Williams, who suffered a stroke in January at the Archie Browning Sports Centre while watching her son play in the B.C. championship.

“She is doing better and I will be playing for her,” said ­Horvath.

“Hopefully, we get some TV games.”

Meanwhile, Thursday was media day at the 2024 Brier, which of course, brought out quips about the most famous annual media day in sports. And why not? The Brier is the Super Bowl of curling.

“For one week, you feel like a superstar,” said Horvath.

“It’s the best bonspiel on Earth.”

As repeat B.C. champions — last year with Jacques Gauthier from Winnipeg as skip — this will be the second consecutive Brier for the VCC trio of third Sterling Middleton, second Jason Ginter and lead Horvath.

“The experience from last year is huge,” said Horvath, by phone from Regina.

“It’s everything outside the curling that you need to know how to handle at a Brier, from the sponsors meetings to the media and being mic’d up and to the autograph sessions, which make for very long and tiring days. We know that now and what to expect after having experienced it last year.”

Schneider is also an old hand at it. This will be his fourth Brier after being part of Saskatchewan-champion rinks at three previous Briers. But there are a lot of rinks gathered in Regina with a lot more experience than that. With the hundreds of teams that begin the quest for the Brier each year at community rinks across the country, it’s uncanny how many familiar names re-appear at the Brier every year. That includes Gauthier, who has gone from skipping the VCC rink in the 2023 Brier, to this year playing in the 2024 event on the Calgary rink of Olympian and two-time world-champion Kevin Koe. Other annual fixtures abound again this year, including two-time Olympic-medallist and former world champion Brad Gushue.

“We know these teams and have played them all year and know what it takes to beat them,” said Horvath.

“But playing them in ­cashspiels is not like playing them in the Brier. It gets much tougher in the Brier. But we know we can do it. We just have to play within ourselves.”

The VCC rink has drawn an opening-day bye and begins play Saturday against the Ontario-champion rink, skipped by ­former world champion Scott Howard. The B.C. champions should have home-ice advantage of a sort with Regina-product Schneider skipping.

“It will be interesting to see how the Saskatchewan crowd reacts. But that’s how curling is in this era,” Schneider told the Times Colonist.

“It will be interesting with friends and family. But I have a job to do and will be putting my head down and staying focused and putting away the distractions.”

The Schneider rink is the sixth from the VCC to play in the Brier following Gauthier last year, Dean Joanisse in 2007 and 2001, Tim Horrigan in 1980 and Tony Gutoski in 1958. It will be the eighth appearance by an Island rink in the Brier, including Glen Harper of Duncan in 1960 and 1963.

Schneider’s VCC foursome will be looking to become the first rink from B.C. to win the Brier since Greg McAulay of Royal City in 2000 and the fifth Brier-winning rink from B.C. including Rick Folk’s of Kelowna in 1994, Lyall Dagg’s of Vancouver in 1964 and Frenchy D’Amour’s of Trail in 1948.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com