While the sporting world’s attention is currently fixed on Sochi, Russia and the XXII Olympic Winter Games, local curling fans have another great sports event to look forward to much closer at hand.

The 2014 Tim Hortons Brier — the Canadian men’s curling championship — is less than two weeks away. It is scheduled for March 1 to 9 at the Interior Savings Centre in Kamloops.

The 2014 Brier will bring together 12 of the best curling teams in the country, each of whom has qualified for the event at their own provincial or territorial championships.

This year’s field of outstanding curlers includes well-known names John Morris (British Columbia), Jeff Stoughton (Manitoba), and Brad Gushue (Newfoundland and Labrador). Both Gushue and Stoughton will be competing in their 11th national championships.

One of the big names not as this year’s Brier is Glen Howard from Ontario. His eight-year reign as provincial champion was ended by Hamilton’s Greg Balsdon.

Action at this year’s Brier kicks off with the Ford Hot Shots competition on Friday, Feb. 28 and Saturday, March 1. The opening ceremonies also take place on the Saturday along with the first two draws of the six-day, full round robin schedule.

Playoffs commence on Friday, March 7 and wrap up with the gold medal game on Sunday, March 9.

This year’s Brier organizers are tremendoulsy excited about the event and have a ton of entertainment lined up at the The Patch — curling’s legendary party place — which will be at nearby Memorial Arena in Kamloops.

A large variety of ticket packages are still available for the 2014 Brier, from single draw tickets to combo packs. You can purchase online at curling.ca or by phoning 1-877-985-2875.

A brief history of the Brier

The Brier is probably one of the truest Canadian sporting championships. Twelve teams, representing each of the 10 provinces plus the Yukon/NWT and Northern Ontario, compete for the Brier Tankard — a silver trophy that has been awarded for over 60 years.

The Canadian men’s curling championship began in 1927 in Toronto and has been contested every year since, with the exception of the war years (1943-45).

A record crowd of almost 282,000 attended the 2005 Brier in Edmonton.

A record crowd of almost 282,000 attended the 2005 Brier in Edmonton.

After being held in Toronto from 1927-39, the Brier went ‘national’ in 1940 and was staged in Winnipeg. Since then, it has been held in every province at least once and in 31 cities from coast-to-coast.

Manitoba has won a leading 27 Briers, while Alberta is second with 22 victories. Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Yukon/NWT have yet to win a Brier title.

At the inaugural Brier in 1927, all games were 14 ends in length. Two games that first year actually went to a 15th end. From 1928-76, games were shortened to 12 ends and beginning in 1977, games were further reduced to 10 ends.

More than 7,000 curlers attempt to qualify for the Brier each year through club, zone, district and provincial championships.

Currently, the 12 Brier teams play a full round robin which concludes on a Thursday.

The playoff format is the Page System, whereby, after any tie breakers are played to determine the top four teams, the first and second place teams play in one playoff game and the second and third place teams meet in a second playoff game.

The winner of the 1 vs. 2 match goes directly to Sunday’s final while the loser of that game meets the winner of the 3 vs. 4 game in a Saturday afternoon semi-final for the right to compete in the championship final.

The Brier champion each year goes on to represent Canada at the World Men’s Curling Championship. Nineteen of the past 29 Brier winners have won the world title.

The list of Brier and world champions includes Randy Ferbey (3), Rick Folk (2), Al Hackner (2), Ed Werenich (2), Russ Howard (2) and Jeff Stoughton (2).

The most decorated Brier winner is Ferbey, who has won a record five times, the most recent being in 2003.

Throughout its history, 15 teams have gone undefeated in the Brier. The last to do so was Kevin Martin of Alberta in 2008 and 2009.

The Brier attendance record is 281,985 — set in Edmonton in 2005. It eclipsed the 248,793 mark established in Saskatoon in 2000.

Hot Shots

For the 20th consecutive year, the Canadian Brier will include the Ford Hot Shots competition. It will take place on Feb. 28 and March 1.HotShotslogo copy_web

The country’s top curlers will show off their shot-making skills by attempting six different shots: the hit and stay, the draw to the button, the draw to the port, the raise, the hit and roll and the double takeout. Each shot will be awarded points on a scale of 0-5 depending on the end result of the shot.

The winner of the Hot Shots competition will win a two-year lease on a 2014 Ford Fusion — a prize with an approximate retail value of $15,304. The second-place finisher will be presented with a cheque for $2,000, while the third-place finisher receives $1,000.

Since 1995, the Ford Hot Shots event has provided an exciting start to the Brier as well as the Scotties Tournament of Hearts — the national women’s championship of curling.

Past winners of the Hot Shots competition at the Brier have been Greg McAuley and Pat Ryan of British Columbia; Alberta’s Don Bartlett, Randy Ferbey, John Morris and Marc Kennedy; Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock; Manitoba’s Steve Gould (twice); Northern Ontario’s Glenn Howard, Wayne Middaugh and Mike Coulter; Ontario’s Ed Werenich, Craig Savill and Richard Hart; New Brunswick’s Rick Perron, Jeff Lacey and Marc LeCocq; and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Mark Nichols.

For a full schedule of the action, pick up a copy of the Feb. 18 edition of the Merritt Herald, or click here.