Jake Higgs has yet another lively curling yarn to tell his future grandkids.
His path to return as skip of Nunavut’s Brier entry was blocked by COVID-19 travel restrictions, which force travellers to quarantine for 14 days in either Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton or Yellowknife before entering the territory.
Ontario and other associations plan to send curlers based on last year’s results to the Calgary Brier bubble in March. Nunavut, though, opted to run a two-team playdown with no eligible import players in Iqaluit last week.
“I’m disappointed to a point, but I completely understood the decision,” the 45-year-old from Strathroy said. “There are tight restrictions there and right now, curling is taking a complete backseat compared to the other stuff going on in the world.”
The absence of the Higgs rink set the stage for a stirring comeback in Iqaluit. Down 0-2 in a best-of-five qualifying series, Peter Mackey rallied to three straight wins over Wade Kingdon, including a 10-6 finale Sunday.
If the Brier happens, Mackey will have a chance to end Nunavut’s five-year, 28-game losing streak.
Higgs went 0-7 at Kingston in 2020.
“My club has been closed and if you’re going to go to the Brier, you want to put your best foot forward,” he said. “I thought we played OK last year with some newer curlers. We would have loved to win a game but I was proud of our performance. I might go back at some point if given the chance but I’m happy for the guys who get to go this year.”
Higgs has also put coaching on the backburner with his commitment to teaching at Arthur Voaden secondary school in St. Thomas. He coached the American mixed-doubles rink of siblings Matt and Becca Hamilton at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
“When I took on that role, I was an occasional teacher and now I’m full time,” he said. “You always feel guilty leaving your students for a long time and your family. I was jetting off somewhere every second weekend.
“At the same time, you start thinking that I’ve curled since I was 10 and it’s been very weird this year. I didn’t know if I would miss it or not, but I’m looking forward to next year and hopefully being able to play again.”
If the Brier goes forward as scheduled, Higgs believes the level of play will be compromised because of the coronavirus disruption.
“Every team won’t be as sharp as before, but when you’re looking at the top contenders, that’s going from maybe 90 per cent to 88,” he said. “When you talk about long runback, it’s a quarter of an inch difference between a make and a miss. So a team that hasn’t had as much curling this year could struggle more than it would normally.”
Some lopsided scores will likely move forward discussions of the Brier’s place in the national game. Many elite teams want a Canada Cup event without provincial jurisdiction to determine Olympic representation.
“That might be good for the Brier,” Higgs said. “If you want to stay with two pools (of eight teams each), there is a format based on seeding where you have a top pool that gets six playoff spots and a bottom one that gets two. It’s an idea that needs some consideration.”
That way, each province and territory is still represented but fans and players get to see all the top teams play each other and the lower-level rinks in more competitive battles.
“There is a conversation about what to do and it wouldn’t surprise me if a change comes in the next four years,” Higgs said.