New ice wars heating up

TODD SAELHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:14 AM ET

The dream is over at least for another four years.

So the post-Olympic season is all about change and contemplation of the future in curling circles.

Will championship rinks stay together through 2014?

Is there enough commitment for long-standing foursomes to slug it out for another four winters?

Certainly, the $54,000 Autumn Gold Curling Classic beginning Friday at the Calgary Curling Club will showcase a shake-up or two among the country's best contending women's teams.

Defending champion Jennifer Jones brings a new look to the 32-team World Curling Tour Grand Slam event, as does fellow super-curler Stefanie Lawton.

"It's kind of an unknown world out there with all the changes," said Calgary skip Heather Rankin.

Among them is Winnipeg's Jones, who boasts a new high-profile third -- Kaitlyn Lawes was the Canadian junior champion in 2008 and '09.

Saskatoon's Lawton added experience at third by inserting longtime skip Sherry Anderson.

And Rankin herself sees third Lisa Eyamie move on to skip her own rink, taking with her lead Kayla McLachlan.

With that, Rankin has added veteran third Glenys Bakker and young lead Carly Quigley to her lineup.

"There's been a lot of shuffling out there on teams this year," Rankin said.

"I think that's great."

Other notable changes featured at the Autumn Gold include Crystal Webster's new third Joanne Taylor, Heather Nedohin's new lead Laine Peters and former Calgary skip Leslie Rogers playing lead for reigning provincial champion Valerie Sweeting.

The reason for so much tinkering is a year deemed somewhat meaningless by curlers.

That's because the Olympic qualification process has been changed so the 2010-11 season will not directly impact the 2013 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials.

The only carrot of the winter is the top four women and men's squads on the Canadian Team Ranking System will gain automatic berths in the 2013 Canadian Olympic Pre-Trials.

"This year doesn't mean too much," said Olympic silver medallist Cheryl Bernard, who has kept her rink intact for the current season.

"Three years until the next Olympics is a long way -- it burns out players.

"So this year, you can slow down and try new players and take a bit of a break if you want.

"It'll be different to see the new combinations," Bernard added.

"I'm interested in seeing younger players coming up and joining some of the older teams -- see how they work out."

EXTRA ENDS

Six international rinks make their way to the Autumn Gold this season -- Scotland's Eve Muirhead, USA's Erika Brown, USA's Allison Pottinger, Japan's Anna Ohmiya, China's Bingyu Wang and Russia's Luidmila Privivkova ... Friday's start-times for the WCT event are 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. ... The winner of the Autumn Gold qualifies for the Canada Cup, Dec. 1-5 in Medicine Hat.

todd.saelhof@sunmedia.ca


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