Brendan Bottcher could have apprenticed playing third or front end for more experienced skips after he graduated from the junior curling ranks.
He had faith in his own abilities, however. Bottcher accepted he would be on the wrong end of some lopsided games as a young skip in the men’s competitive ranks.
He didn’t take his lumps for long.
The 27-year-old has guided a team into the playoffs at the Canadian men’s curling championship for a second straight year.
“It’s really nice to look around the other top skips in curling and know that I’m six, eight, 10 years younger than some of them,” Bottcher said. “That is good on the ego.
“It feels like we’re doing the right things. I’m just fortunate I can compete with a lot of these guys that have been doing this on an elite level for 15, 20 years. I think it’s just amazing we’re even in the mix.”
Three-time national champion Kevin Koe observed in Brandon that Bottcher is ahead of his years throwing fourth stones.
“He’s not afraid of having the big shot and making it or taking the chance when it presents itself,” Koe said.
“He’s only going to get better. He’s still young. Hopefully he doesn’t get to be his best for a few more years.”
Alberta’s Koe (11-0) and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs (9-2) locked down berths in Saturday’s Page playoff between the top two seeds.
The winner goes directly to Sunday evening’s final, while the loser drops to the semifinal earlier Sunday.
Defending champion Brad Gushue (9-2) and Bottcher’s wild-card team from Edmonton (8-3) will square off in the playoff between the third and fourth seeds in a reprise of last year’s Brier final.
The victor advances to the semifinal.
Koe downed Jacobs 7-5 and Gushue beat Bottcher 8-5 in Friday’s championship-round finale, which ended up being a playoff preview.
But Friday’s winners each earned hammer in the first end and choice of rocks for Saturday’s games.
“Undefeated doesn’t mean a lot,” Koe said. “We’ve got to keep playing well and we’re going to have to find out best game still on the weekend.
“If anyone knows that teams can come charging out of the three-four and semifinal game, it’s me, having come though the semi five times and the Page lots of times too.”
Gushue is a career 0-for-4 in three-four playoff games, but hasn’t played in one since 2013 when he lost to eventual champion Jacobs.
“All of those were before we had won a Brier,” Gushue said. “At the end of the day, if we don’t win this, we’ve won a couple.
“I’m not saying we’re settling by any means, but it’s a little different mentality now than what it was when we were in our mid-twenties trying to win and trying to break through.”
An extra-end win for Jacobs over Gushue earlier Friday gave Northern Ontario the higher seed.
“There’s little goals you set throughout the week and one of them was definitely to make the Page one-two playoff game,” Jacobs said. “It gives you two opportunities at making the final.
“Everyone was really exhausted after that Gushue game going to an extra end and being down most the time. That was a very mentally tiring game and it reflected a little bit in our play tonight.”
Bottcher skipped Alberta to last year’s championship game in Regina and lost 6-4 to Gushue.
Ousted by Koe in this year’s Alberta’s playdowns, Bottcher had to beat Toronto’s John Epping in a sudden-death game before the main draw to gain entry.
Bottcher and second Brad Thiessen, 29, have been teammates since their junior days.
Karrick Martin, the 29-year-old son of Hall of Famer Kevin Martin, has been Bottcher’s lead since they won a national university championship for Alberta in 2012.
Moulding, 36, came on board as vice midway through the 2016-17 season. They went 3-8 in their Brier debut in St. John’s N.L., where Gushue took the title in his hometown.
They’ve steadily gained big-game experience as a foursome via a fourth-place finish at the 2017 Olympic trials and reaching the Brier final.
They claimed their first Grand Slam victory in January at the Meridian Canadian Open in North Battleford, Sask. That felt like a breakthrough for Bottcher.
“Last year we got to a lot of big games and we struggled in a lot of those big games, whether it was a Brier final or some of our other big games of the year,” the skip said.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press