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Brendan Bottcher’s defending Brier championship team has made a surprise lineup change in the midst of the current Olympic season. It won’t be the last such maneuver to be announced in the coming months, but it might be one of the most debated in recent memory.

Three months—virtually to the day—before the Canadian men’s championship gets underway, Bottcher and teammates Brad Thiessen and Karrick Martin have bid farewell to third Darren Moulding.

A team statement was posted to social media on Friday night.

“Our team will have a new player in the lineup for the remainder of the 2021-22 curling season.

“The team and vice-skip Darren Moulding have parted ways, as Darren is taking time away from the game for personal reasons, and we will announce a new player at a later date for the reminder of the season, including our attempt at a title defence at the 2022 Tim Hortons Brier.”

Team Bottcher captured the 2021 “Bubble Brier” in Calgary after three consecutive losses in the three previous championship finals. The elusive victory gave the squad the Team Canada berth into the 2022 event, slated for Mar. 4-13 in Lethbridge, Alta.

2021 Brier • Michael Burns-Curling Canada

2021 Brier • Michael Burns-Curling Canada

“Darren has been an outstanding teammate and we have shared so many amazing memories over more than five seasons together,” the release continued. “It was no coincidence that we took significant steps forward when Darren joined us in 2017. We wish Darren nothing but the very best moving forward!”

The team went 3-8 at the recent Canadian Olympic Trials, starting 0-3 with losses to defending champion Brad Gushue, Trials rookie Tanner Horgan and event finalist Brad Jacobs. They won their fourth outing 10-2 against Mike McEwen before subsequent losses to Kevin Koe and Matt Dunstone. Team Bottcher finished the event with victories over Jason Gunnlaugson and John Epping.

“Brendan will hold a media availability on Monday and will have no further comment until then,” the release said. “We also ask everyone to respect Darren’s privacy at this time.”

Moulding didn’t wait long to be contacted by fans, the media or anyone else. He took to social media two hours later to insinuate his former teammates had made the change.

@TeamBottcher Twitter

@TeamBottcher Twitter

“This is a complete bs statement… I’m very disappointed that the team didn’t put out an accurate statement on my status,” Moulding stated in his quoted tweet of the team posting. “I am not taking time away from the game… I’m ready, willing and able to play. I was planning to defend my title as team Canada in Lethbridge.”

In another tweet, Moulding delivered an “lol” to the phrase “Personal Reasons”, adding the hashtags #dontbelieveit and #lies.

In a recent reply tweet on Saturday morning, Moulding went further, referring to himself as getting “cut.”

No curling fan should be surprised to hear that teams have already been discussing potential lineup changes for next season and the next 2023-26 Olympic quadrennial—this was discussed on the 2 Girls and a Game podcast after the opening weekend of the Trials.

But the announcement of such a key lineup change to a defending championship team so close to that championship is rare.

Stories of lineup changes abound in the sport. Just before the Trials in Saskatoon, Team Dunstone announced that third Braeden Moskowy would be replaced by Colton Lott. Personal reasons were cited, with an anguished Dunstone stating “We’re going to respect his privacy at this time.”

The 2 Girls with Moulding

The 2 Girls with Moulding

In 1995, Karen Purdy slipped and fell in the parking lot of a Winnipeg curling club, breaking her ankle. The occasion was a sendoff party for her team, skipped by Connie Laliberte, just days before they were to represent Manitoba at the Canadian women’s championship. A young Cathy Overton was recruited to replace Purdy at third, and Laliberte won the national and world championship titles. Purdy was replaced by Overton for the following season.

In 2016, amid the explosive revelations of Russian state-sponsored athlete doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games, Russia pulled its team from the world men’s curling championship in Basel, Switzerland and replaced them just hours before the competition was scheduled to start.

Most lineup changes take place in the off season. In the summer of 2010, Jennifer Jones replaced longtime third Overton (now Cathy Overton-Clapham) with young sharpshooter Kaitlyn Lawes. The decision upset many curling fans, and inexplicably dogged both Jones and Overton-Clapham for many years.

TCN Jan2020 cover_sm

The bizarre longevity ranked among The Curling News’ most “Spectacular and Awful of the Decade” feature in the January 2020 issue.

“I still hear about it,” Overton-Clapham confirmed to The Curling News in that issue. “Once in a while, in a Costco or wherever. It’s sad, really, but it is what it is.”

The Overton-Clapham and Moulding scenarios are similar in that both were set to represent Canada at upcoming championship events, with financial stakes—such as the next round of Sport Canada athlete funding—in play.