The Canadian Olympic Trials of curling just got a little spicier. Maybe.
Two-time world champion Wayne Middaugh became the final men's qualifier into December's big show on Saturday night, with a 6-4 victory over Kelowna's Bob Ursel at the last-gasp Trials qualifier in Prince George, B.C.
Just under three weeks from now, Middaugh will take on four-time world champion Randy Ferbey on sheet D of Ferbey's hometown arena -- Edmonton's Rexall Centre -- to kick off his third career appearance in the playoff they're calling the "Roar of the Rings."
There is no doubt this shootout will be a humdinger, as organizers are assured of a Trials ticket sales milestone. The chance to compete on home ice at Vancouver 2010 has galvanized Canada's curling world.
But the "Road to the Roar" in Prince George, at which Middaugh and seven other men's and women's squads qualified, seemed strangely muted.
Crowds appeared thin, at least on TV, but "B.C.'s Northern Capital" has a small population anyway.
On the men's side, the elimination of Newfoundland's Brad Gushue hurts. Everyone loves a defending champion, particularly one who went on to score Olympic gold.
Cathy King also misses out on a hometown appearance. Edmonton fans will have to cheer for three Calgary women's teams.
Many qualifiers seemed more relieved than overjoyed. Sure, there were smiles, high-fives and hugs, but it's no secret that the three-year Olympic qualifying grind has frustrated many athletes.
Almost half the winners would be considered dark horses who upset higher-seeded teams. Many of them -- heck, most players in the 24-team field -- are pretty quiet and reserved, not exactly the kind of athletes that hungry, Olympic-crazed reporters want to work with.
Not Jason Gunnlaugson of Beausejour, Man. As Sun Media reported yesterday, the surprise qualifier declared his team to be full of "piss and vinegar," whereupon his live television interrogator suggested "On (TV) we say P&V."
Qualifier Jeff Stoughton likes to speak his mind, too. The Winnipeg skip famously declared that Gushue had "no chance" of winning the 2005 Trials, and ended up losing to him in the championship final. Oops.
Which brings us to Middaugh, one of those black hats of curling who some fans just love to hate. Or used to, anyway.
As a skip in 1997, he had locked up nearly half of the qualifying berths himself, with the system accepting numerous event runners-up as a result. He was a curling road warrior, playing nonstop. He got mad, and he showed it.
This fall, Middaugh had played only 15 games before Prince George. Two events were close to his home in Midland, Ont.
And he has been a changed man, it seems, for a while.
"I'm a lot different," Middaugh said way back in 2005.
"I'm a lot more relaxed. I've gone home from a lot of games after a big loss. The kids don't care if you've won or lost, they just care that Dad will go outside and play with us. What's better than that?"
Middaugh was stellar against Ursel, but his shots were simple. The B.C. squad played poorly.
Middaugh's wife Sherry, who was eliminated from women's play on Saturday afternoon, will be in charge of the brood in Edmonton. But if hubby is to rekindle the fire within, perhaps she should leave the kids home with the grandparents.
The Olympic rings are the only things missing from Wayne's stellar resume, and perhaps it's time for some P&V.