The Jamie King rink is a contender and not a pretender for the provincial men’s curling crown.
The star-studded St. Albert line-up of King, Blake MacDonald, Scott Pfeifer and Jeff Erickson will challenge the powerhouse Kevin Koe and Kevin Martin teams for a Brier berth.
The highly touted foursome made the final in all four bonspiels they entered on the World Curling Tour.
“We completely exceeded our expectations, that’s for sure. It was a phenomenal bonspiel season,” King said. “We’re really hoping that it carries through to provincials. That means we’re in the final.”
In the first bonspiel together as a team they pocketed $5,000 as the shootout winners in September at the Saville Community Sports Centre.
“We had a lot of fun. We won some cash, paid for the year kind of thing, which is nice,” King said.
They also padded their bank account as the runners-up in Vernon ($5,500), Kamloops ($5,500) and Wainwright ($9,000).
In the process, King and his men qualified for the Feb. 6 to 10 provincials in Leduc as the No. 2-ranked team in Alberta Curling Tour standings and will not have to plow through the playdown trail.
“The Saville and Wainwright spiels were the only two Alberta Curling Tour spiels we played in and because we won the Saville and made the final in Wainwright, that got us enough points for one of the byes (to provincials) through the Alberta Curling Tour,” explained King.
His rink will be joined at provincials by Koe (defending champion), Martin (Canadian Team Ranking System points leader in Alberta by the Dec. 1 cutoff date) and Brendan Bottcher (No. 1 on the Alberta Curling Tour).
The stakes are high this year, with the Brier on tap at Rexall Place from March 2 to 10.
“We’re excited to represent the St. Albert Curling Club at provincials. It’s been a while since Mr. (Hec) Gervais went to the Brier so we’re hoping that we can do it too,” King said of the renowned St. Albert skip who competed in four Briers and was victorious in 1961 and 1974.
There is no shortage of Brier experience on the King rink.
Pfeifer, who joined Gervais as one of the inaugural six inductees into the St. Albert Curling Club’s wall of fame in 2011, is a five-time Alberta champion, four-time Brier winner and three-time world gold medallist with the Ferbey Four. The southpaw second is a five-time Brier all-star record holder, starting with second-team honours in 2001 before making the first team four straight years. He also won a U20 world championship in 1994 and was a bronze medallist in 1997.
MacDonald, the last rock thrower for King when they lost the 2003 and 2005 provincial finals to the Ferbey Four, was the third for Koe’s 2010 Brier and world championship team and alternate for the 2011 provincial champions. King was also the alternate for Koe in 2010.
MacDonald and Pfeifer were semi-retired from the sport when they joined forces with King, who was carving out a successful career as the top gun on the legendary Hootie and the Old Fish rink, winners of an unprecedented eight President’s Cup club championships in 19 years, including a record-setting six-straight championships, as well as the Edmonton and area tournament of champions twice in six years, including the 2011 title.
Erickson, a two-time U20 Alberta champion, was also brought on board.
All four players are over 30 years old, with King the elder statesman at 39.
“It’s a fun bunch of guys and that was the whole intent of this team. We got some golfing in at Vernon and Kamloops so it’s been a blast, too much at times too,” King said. “We’ve also played as good individually as any team I’ve ever played on.”
There is no pressure to earn Olympic Trail points while grinding it out on the bonspiel circuit as Pfeifer and MacDonald have experienced.
“We’re playing in a spiel just to play in it and try and win it. That’s all we’re worried about,” King said. “The other thing too, and Scott mentioned it, is that we’re not getting any younger and so it’s nice to play in a spiel and then have a couple of weeks off to let your body heal. You feel refreshed going into the next one. When you’re playing 12 to 14 spiels a year and you’re going every weekend your body never really gets a chance to heal and neither does your mind. You get to the next spiel and you’re almost drained before you’ve even started and with us we’re not.”
The line-ups have varied in every bonspiel and King isn’t sure who will play what position at provincials.
“We’re going to talk about it in January but it’s refreshing to kind of change it up that way. We kind of almost want to change it up depending on who we’re playing to get some matchups that we want,” King said. “The nice part is that all four guys have the ability to throw in any of the four positions. The only thing that will probably stay the same is that I will be calling the game because they just don’t want me sweeping for various reasons and more than likely Blake will be throwing the skip rocks but other than that it’s completely up in the air, which actually makes it kind of fun.”
With no bonspiels scheduled before provincials, the team will practice when everybody is available and will fill in for the vacationing Old Fish in the Thursday night league. The Old Fish – Craig King (Jamie’s dad), Ralph Killips, Brian Pfeifer (Scott’s dad) and super sub Elson Keown – are all grandfathers who have proven to be a tough team to beat with Jamie at the controls.
“Scott and Blake are actually part of the seven man crew that we’ve got and they’ve already played a few games,” Jamie said. “Every single one of the seniors is gone for the month of January on some warm vacation so our team that is going to provincials will play two or three weeks in January. It should be a lot of fun.”