BRANDON, Man. — A Brier finalist a year ago, Brendan Bottcher is a contender again now that his team has joined the field of the Canadian men's curling championship.
Bottcher downed John Epping 8-4 in Friday's win-and-get-in, wild-card game to round out the 16-team main draw.
Edmonton's Bottcher, third Darren Moulding, and front ends Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin open against Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs on Saturday.
"This was one of our goals at the start of the year was to get back here and try and be in the playoffs again," Bottcher said.
"I really felt we had a great year leading up to this and we've done our part and it would have been sad if our week was done already. I feel like we've had too good of a year for that to be the case."
Curling Canada introduced a wild-card game for both the Tim Hortons Brier and Scotties Tournament of Hearts in 2018.
The two highest-ranked teams in the Canadian Team Ranking system (CTRS) that don't win their province or territory qualify for the Brier's wild-card game.
Toronto's Epping (3) and Bottcher (4) skipped their respective provinces last year in Regina, where Alberta's Bottcher lost in the final to Brad Gushue and Ontario's Epping fell to Bottcher in the semifinal.
Friday's sudden-death game meant a short stay in Brandon for either Bottcher or Epping.
"It's hard to plan your whole life around either being here for 24 hours or for 10 days," Bottcher said.
After giving up a steal of one to Epping in the second end, Bottcher's foursome scored two with hammer in the third, sixth and eighth ends.
With Epping set up for a three-pointer in the seventh end to potentially tie the game, Bottcher made a key double takeout to limit the opposition to a deuce.
"We always thought we were going to get two anyways," Epping said. "The deuce meant we were still alive or if we could ever steal in eight or force, that would have been great."
Trailing 7-4 after eight ends, however, Epping faced a tricky hit to generate a deuce. He gave up a steal of one to Bottcher, who ran him out of rocks in the 10th.
"I'm just so proud we're going to be sticking around the rest of the week," Bottcher said.
Manitoba's Mike McEwen, Saskatchewan's Kirk Muyres, Quebec's Martin Crete, Andrew Symonds of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island's John Likely and Yukon's Jon Solberg join Bottcher and Jacobs in Pool A.
Gushue, Alberta's Kevin Koe, Ontario's Scott McDonald, Nova Scotia's Stuart Thompson, British Columbia's Jim Cotter, Jamie Koe of Northwest Territories, New Brunswick's Terry Odishaw and Nunavut's Dave St. Louis make up Pool B.
The top four teams in each pool at the conclusion of the round robin Wednesday advance to the championship round, from which the four Page playoff teams will emerge.