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Brier champion skip Bottcher weighs in on surprise split with vice-skip Moulding

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Brendan Bottcher provided his reasoning Sunday for the lineup rupture within the Canadian men’s curling champions that left Darren Moulding on the outs and had the sport’s observers engrossed by the unexpected divorce just three months before the Tim Hortons Brier.

“Chemistry is a tough one,” Bottcher said. “It really is.”

An in-person meeting Friday night in Edmonton was followed by an online Team Bottcher statement announcing Moulding’s departure, which came a week after the rink’s disappointing performance at Canada’s Olympic curling trials.

The post included a line that Moulding was “taking time away from the game for personal reasons,” something the veteran third described on Twitter as a “complete BS statement.”

Bottcher apologized Sunday afternoon for the statement’s wording during a solo media availability on a Curling Canada Zoom call, stating that while he felt the line was somewhat misinterpreted, he regretted any confusion it may have caused.

“It was never my intent to shepherd him down a certain path or push him out of the sport,” Bottcher said. “I hope he keeps curling. I want to be very direct about that.”

While Moulding pulled back the curtain on what he felt led to the split with heart-on-his-sleeve style comments a day earlier, Bottcher declined to get “into the minutia” of either their sit-down session or the team’s dynamics.

The skip instead offered measured replies over a 20-minute question-and-answer session and spoke mostly in general terms.

“There’s never truly a great time to make changes,” Bottcher said. “As skip, I have a responsibility to my team to ensure the right fit and chemistry and that’s my focus moving forward.”

Lineup changes are quite common in curling, but they usually occur before the end of a campaign or in the off-season. Dropping a vice-skip in the middle of a season with no immediate plans to name a replacement was quite unusual.

For a team ranked sixth in the world that has made four straight Brier final appearances – winning it for the first time last season – it was a stunner, even on the heels of a mediocre 3-5 showing at the trials.

Team Bottcher will wear Canada colours at the March 4-13 Brier in Lethbridge, Alta.

“One day you wake up and you look in the mirror and you just don’t have that chemistry anymore,” Bottcher said. “It’s hard to put your finger on what it is or how you lost it.

“It’s hard to grasp it back and I think that’s really where we landed.”

While noting that he was not a communications professional, Bottcher said he originally felt using the phrase “personal reasons” in the team statement gave everyone concerned a good explanation for why they were parting ways.

He said he was disappointed about how the line was construed and apologized for “any unintended consequences.”

“Maybe I used a couple words there that had an unintended meaning but hopefully I clarified that here today,” he said.

The team posted an updated statement on Sunday evening to remove the reference. Moulding has said he intends to continue elite-level curling and updated his Twitter bio to reflect his “free agent” status.

There have been other unexpected high-profile team shakeups over the years.

Jennifer Jones dropped third Cathy Overton-Clapham in 2010. After winning the 2014 Brier, Kevin Koe told his team that he would be moving on with a new lineup for the next quadrennial.

And Rachel Homan parted ways with lead Lisa Weagle in March 2020, to name just a few examples.

Team Bottcher seemed to have solid chemistry, effective communication and a strong brotherly vibe on the ice during most of their four-plus years as a foursome. But Moulding revealed after his departure that wasn’t the case at times.

He felt the dynamics had changed at the 2020 Brier in Kingston, Ont., and got worse last season in the Calgary curling bubble.

Moulding said the team does not use an even four-way split for payouts and he felt there was a lack of transparency regarding team finances.

“It was just a classic example of business destroying a team,” he told The Canadian Press on Saturday.

On Sunday, Bottcher was asked directly about Moulding’s concerns.

“All the members of my team always have and always will get an equal share of everything,” he said. “I’ve tried to have as much transparency as I can.”

Moulding said many teams use spreadsheets to allow all players access to a rink’s financial picture, but that Bottcher refused to use such a setup.

“I think it would be great to audit the books and look over it,” he said from his home in Lacombe, Alta. “But I’m not sure how possible that is so right now I’m looking at all options.”

When asked if the team would be comfortable with an audit, Bottcher reiterated his desire to not get into specifics of the team’s structure, adding his teammates “would all agree” that earnings are split equally.

Interview requests with lead Karrick Martin, second Brad Thiessen and coach Don Bartlett were made through the federation but only the skip was made available.

Bottcher was also asked about some of the backlash that came after the team announcement and the social media criticism that followed.

“This was always going to be tough,” he said. “That was part of the calculus that went into making the decision. I’m focused on the future and there’s no point on dwelling on what’s happened.”

The skip also noted that most curling teams don’t have a general manager, team owner or public relations staff to handle matters like roster changes. He said it’s often left to the team to do the best it can.

“There is emotion involved for all of us,” he said. “This was tough. I actually care about all of these guys a lot.”

Both Moulding and Bottcher said they were proud of the team’s performances over the years and have great memories of their accomplishments.

Both curlers made the media rounds Sunday, repeating similar talking points in podcast interviews and online video shows.

When reached Sunday night to get his general reaction to Bottcher’s comments, Moulding reiterated that he was grateful for his time on the team and was not bitter about the situation.

But he said that he can’t take what Bottcher says at face value.

“I don’t trust him,” Moulding said in a text message. “He will say what he needs to say. He should be a politician.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2021.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19

Opposition leader to meet with freedom convoy leaders in Ottawa

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With a healthy Prime Minister Trudeau isolating due to covid protocol, Canada’s Opposition leader Erin O’Toole says he’s only too happy to meet with representatives of the Freedom Convoy.  Thursday as O’Toole emerged from a caucus meeting about the results of the last election, he swept aside all questions from the media and made a statement about the Freedom Convoy headed to the nation’s capital.

Saying he’s never seen the county so divided, O’Toole blamed the Prime Minister for stoking the division by refusing to even speak to the Truckers.  He went on to say the Conservatives have always opposed mandates, and that no Canadian should be losing their livelihood over their health decisions.

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Crowd gathers north of Toronto to cheer on trucker convoy heading to Ottawa

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TORONTO — A large crowd gathered outside a mall north of Toronto on Thursday as a group of local truckers prepared to join a convoy to Ottawa in protest of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers.

Some in the crowd threw cash and food up to truckers in their vehicles at the Vaughan Mills mall while others hoisted Canadian flags and signs protesting the government as the truckers gradually rolled out.

Mike Fabinski, a truck driver from Barrie, Ont., said the vaccine mandate means he won’t be able to work cross-border routes any more.

“You want to be vaccinated, go ahead, your choice. I don’t want to be vaccinated, that’s my choice,” he said.

Fabinski said he’s been a truck driver for 20 years but has not been able to travel to the U.S. since the federal mandate came to effect on Jan 15.

“I was going non-stop until they started last Saturday,” he said. “Now I cannot go. I cannot work no more.”

The federal government ended truckers’ exemption to the vaccine mandate two weeks ago meaning Canadian truck drivers need to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine when they cross into Canada from the U.S.

Some with extreme, far-right views have latched onto the protest against the mandate. One online video includes a man expressing hope the rally will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

On Thursday, some in the crowd that came out to support the truckers said they planned to join the convoy and make the trek to Ottawa as well.

Dean Brown said he supported peaceful protest intended by the convoy and rejected suggestions that it could lead to violence.

“The people who are in charge of this (convoy) are blocking people who are insisting or suggesting violence,” the 57-year-old Toronto man said.

“It’s all about peace. It’s all about freedom. It’s all about getting the Canadian way of life back. We are not here to turn it to violence.”

Ontario Provincial Police were urging drivers to be patient as several groups of truckers planned to drive across the province to Ottawa before a so-called “freedom rally” on Parliament Hill planned for Saturday.

Police spokesman Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said drivers should prepare for delays on Toronto-area highways, including Highway 401, Highway 400 and the Queen Elizabeth Way.

Police in Ottawa have said they are planning for as many as 2,000 demonstrators, and while protest leaders have been co-operative, there are concerns that far-right extremist groups that have attached themselves to the convoy could spark violence.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which has denounced the convoy protest, estimates that roughly 15 per cent of truckers — up to 16,000 — are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2022.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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