Darren Moulding had seen signs of fracture within Team Bottcher well before things came to a head for the reigning national men's champions this week.
A group text about a sponsorship request led to an in-person team meeting at the Edmonton home of lead Karrick Martin on Friday evening. Moulding was joined at the sitdown by Martin, skip Brendan Bottcher and second Brad Thiessen.
"When I showed up, I walked in the door and they basically just told me I was cut," Moulding said.
Team Bottcher issued a statement later Friday night confirming Moulding's departure. The release added he'd be "taking time away from the game for personal reasons," something Moulding described on Twitter as a "complete BS statement."
For a team that's ranked sixth in the world and will soon wear the Maple Leaf at the Tim Hortons Brier, the mid-season move – even after a disappointing showing at Canada's Olympic trials – came as a major surprise.
The team said it planned to name a new teammate at a later date. Bottcher said he'd have no further comment until a media availability Monday, which was later rescheduled for Sunday afternoon via a Curling Canada conference call.
Moulding, reached by The Canadian Press at his home in Lacombe, Alta., said ripples within the team started to reach a higher level when coach Don Bartlett joined them at the Brier for the first time in 2020.
Further division came last season in Calgary, said Moulding, who battled a significant back injury in the curling bubble. It was there, he said, that he challenged Bottcher on issues that he felt were important to him and his teammates.
"I kind of stuck up for them," Moulding said. "Starting there, basically he was unwilling to make it right and do what needed to be done to fix the problem and I wouldn't back down. So he just decided he'd had enough of me."
Moulding said he wanted a better business structure within the team and basically "took the bullet" for trying to get some transparency.
"That went over like a lead balloon," he said. "Brendan doesn't like that. If he can't control everything all the time, then he's going to need to find somebody that just lets him do it. It'll be interesting to see who can handle that."
Specifics on team revenue and split percentages from prize payouts were not available.
"If I'm part of the team I want it to be equal share," Moulding said. "That means not just monetarily but also in having a say in how we do things and being able to see how we do things and having transparency. So it's definitely a business issue.
"It was never indicated to me that it was a performance issue. At the trials, obviously Brendan struggled there. Everybody saw the games on TV. They know what happened."
Bottcher, who won a world junior title in 2012, was 3-5 to settle for a fifth-place tie in round-robin play at SaskTel Centre, coming well short of the playoff cut.
Moulding said he called the team meeting after Bottcher "kind of freaked out on me" in a reply to his group text. He described the skip as someone who was typically "very defensive," who could get "upset and emotional."
"He'd be lashing out at me for no reason and not making very much sense," Moulding said. "The other two guys just sit there. They don't say anything. They've been curling with him for a long time and I think they know that if they say something, they're afraid to get cut, which is sad because they're both really good players.
"They don't deserve that. I wish that they could find a little bit of courage and stick up for themselves a little bit but they aren't made the same way I am."
Moulding was initially hoping to find out why the skip was upset. Instead the meeting focused on reasons why he was out.
"I asked why and Brendan just said that I've said hurtful things about Don and him, which I disagree (with), but I just told the truth about a couple things that I saw happening in the team that I didn't like," he said.
"I had to stick to my morals and my values and I wouldn't let him off the hook. Sometimes telling the truth gets you in trouble, but it doesn't mean that it's the wrong thing to do."
Moulding later updated his Twitter profile bio to read: "Proud Dad, Free Agent Curler."
An accompanying picture of the members of Team Bottcher was changed to a sunset over a lake.
"I can assure you that I'm healthy, happy and I'll play any time," Moulding said. "I don't have any personal reasons that prevent me from curling. So that (statement) was unfair because that can affect my curling career. They're allowed to cut me. It sucks, the timing sucks. They could have just said, 'We want a new player, you're done.'
"It's not exactly nice but to misrepresent my status after five years of basically giving everything I could to the team, I just felt I deserved a little bit better than that. But people do things in their own way."
The Bottcher foursome reached three Brier finals before finally breaking through last season. The team will defend its title this March in Lethbridge, Alta.
Moulding said the team provided some additional "fairly petty" reasons to him for making the switch.
One was that he was "cranky" at times in the bubble. Another was that they didn't like that he called for a hog-line official in a game against the Netherlands at the world championship, Moulding said.
"They brought Marc Kennedy in to play fifth but they didn't tell me about it," he said. "I found out much the same way I found out about getting cut – by surprise. So that was a problem.
"But in that situation (in the bubble), being injured, I would have really appreciated a little bit of support."
The four players spent four full seasons together and appeared to be a strong unit with solid on-ice chemistry.
"I'd say what you saw out there was real," Moulding said. "We really were that close. I would say that since Don came on, we really got worse that way. But it was just enabling Brendan. I think that's the major thing."
Bottcher was the only team member scheduled to appear on Sunday's conference call.
Interview requests for Bartlett, Thiessen and Martin were made through the federation on Saturday but it wasn't immediately clear if they would be made available.
After getting a chance to absorb the news overnight and into Saturday, Moulding said he's happy with how he has handled everything and wouldn't change a thing.
While sad he won't get to defend his Brier title, Moulding said he's excited about the future and is hopeful that he'll compete at a high level sometime soon.
"For the first three years together, it was wonderful," Moulding said. "It ran its course. But I would reflect back on it as a positive time in my life."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2021.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press