When Brendan Bottcher (BSc ‘15) stopped by the Leduc Recreation Complex in March to watch the University of Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas curling teams, the 2018 Brier finalist was impressed with what he saw.
Of course it helped that the U of A teams went on to win the men’s and women’s U SPORTS national championship banners, marking the second time in three seasons that the U of A has captured both curling titles in the same season. It also helps that Bottcher himself spent four years throwing skip stones as a Golden Bear, including a national championship win of his own in 2012, the first in Golden Bears history.
Now a professional curler who skipped his team to the 2018 Brier final and into the 2018 Olympic qualifying tournament, Bottcher knows what a championship team looks like. The 26-year old speaks with pride on what he’s witnessing now as an alum.
“A few things have always been paramount in the U of A curling program,” started Bottcher. “The structure and planning that goes into the whole program is a huge advantage that other teams do not have. I like to think that our teams work harder and smarter than a lot of the competition at the university level as well. And those qualities in particular have carried through into my professional career, and are obviously still present with the current Golden Bears and Pandas teams and athletes.”
Bottcher, who hails from Sherwood Park, Alberta took serious strides towards his pro curling future while at the University of Alberta and following a successful junior career. His junior team, featuring current teammate Brad Thiessen, as well as twin brothers Landon and Bryce Bucholz, won four junior bonspiels, and also played in the Edmonton Men's Super-League, where they posted a .500 record. They also went on to win the Alberta junior provincial curling championships in 2010, which earned them a berth to the 2010 Canadian Junior Curling Championships in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec.
He then began classes in the U of A’s Faculty of Engineering in 2011-12, and had been recruited to curl by Golden Bears and Pandas curling architect Rob Krepps. Bottcher began his curling university career that same year, and alongside Karrick Martin, Mick Lizmore, Parker Konschuh and Thiessen, they helped the young U of A curling program its first taste of national glory. They breezed through the national championship round robin with a 6-1 record before defeating Waterloo 7-1 to capture the national championship trophy in St. Catherine’s, Ontario.
“When I started as a Golden Bear, we were just striving to win our first national championship in the program’s history,” noted Bottcher. “In my four-year run we played in three national championship finals, and had the fortune to win one of them.”
What has followed has been a legacy of championship banners and a curling development program that produces wave after wave of blue chip Canadian curling contenders from the ice of the Saville Community Sports Centre on the U of A South Campus.
“Now, more than ever, the Golden Bears and Pandas are the class of the field and certainly are viewed as the overwhelming favorites. The program has brought a slew of medals back to the U of A since our team graduated, and I think the teams today wear a lot more of that pressure than we ever had to, especially when you realize the level of competition and play has really gone up since my time.”
“What drives young curlers from around the country to this program,” he added, “is the long-term success of the curling development system at the U of A over the past decade. Simply put, teams in the U of A curling development program win a lot, and certainly put themselves into a ton of positions to win. That kind of momentum attracts the best future curlers who are willing to sacrifice to be a part of the program and become successful. I think the culture that the U of A has created has also contributes a lot to the ability to recruit the best players. It's a tight knit group, and even being a part of the program is a huge accomplishment and success. This is certainly the case as you see many of these athletes seamlessly filtering into the men’s and women’s pro curling world, and being scooped up by some of the best teams in the world right out of their junior or varsity experience in the U of A program.”
In addition to skipping the Golden Bears into three national championship finals, Bottcher also represented Canada on the curling ice during his time at the U of A. In 2012 he competed as skip for Canada’s team at the World Junior Curling Championships in Ostersund, Sweden, winning a gold medal, and he skipped Canada’s team at the 2013 Winter Universiade in Trentino, Italy. Bottcher was named Canada’s Opening Ceremonies flag bearer for those games, and would go on to capture a bronze medal.
The current Golden Bears and Pandas teams will once again follow Bottcher’s footsteps after earning the right to wear the Maple Leaf at the 2019 Winter Universiade in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.
“I think it’s awesome that both of our teams won. The last handful of years have been so successful, and I know the athletes on both of those teams have worked very hard and are so deserving of representing Canada at the Universiade,” said Bottcher.
Bottcher and his current teammates, Darren Moulding, Thiessen and Martin, are planning to stay together for another year at least, including their latest stop on 2018 World Curling Tour at the Player’s Championship April 10-15 in Toronto.