Martin set to hit frosty ice

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:01 AM ET

Re-entry will occur tonight at 9:02. Kevin Martin and his Olympic silver medal-winning rink will step on the ice against Kevyn McGregor at the new Saville Centre to take their first slides on the Brier path.

It's 2004 and the great curling war is officially over. When Don Walchuk and Carter Rycroft start sweeping Don Bartlett's first rock after the coin toss, Martin's rink becomes Brier- and Olympic-eligible again.

"It's going to be weird,'' said Martin.

"The last three years, we'd walk into a rink on Wednesday, play hard for money four days against teams we knew very well. Then we'd move on to a different place the next week and play hard against the same guys again.

"We've been away so long we didn't even know who to call to find out what time and who we are playing.

DIFFERENT MINDSET

"The mindset is so different. In the playdowns one week builds on the next week. Playing exclusively on the Grand Slam circuit, if you don't do OK, you move on to the next week. In the playdowns, there is no next week. It's going to be kind of uncomfortable getting our minds ready for it, especially to start with.''

Tonight is the beginning of the toughest trip anywhere in the world in the roaring game.

"Edmonton is the strongest curling city in Canada now,'' offered Martin of the field which has much more depth than Randy Ferbey's three-in-a-row Brier bunch.

Eight rinks of the 38 entered proceed to the Northerns three weeks from now at the Thistle, with three rinks proceeding to the provincial finals in mid-February in Hinton.

"I'd bet on some upsets before we all get there,'' said Walchuk of the favourites, which include Jamie King of Edmonton and John Morris, the relocated Ontario skip now curling out of Calgary.

Probably the most emotional about the moment tonight will be Walchuk.

"It'll probably feel good for me,'' said the three-time Brier champ who went with Pat Ryan in '85, '87, '88 and '89 and with Martin in '96, '97 and 2000, an all-star in all seven appearances.

"I'm glad it's all over. I'm glad it's done now. The playdowns have always been important for me. It's always had a special place in my heart.

"I don't really know what it's going to feel like. I guess you always feel like you have something to prove. And for us, the No. 1 thing is getting back to the Olympics. That whole experience was so amazing. I highly recommend it. It was totally perfect, other than losing the gold-medal game.''

So far only Ferbey and Nova Scotia's Mark Dacey have punched their tickets for the Olympic trials from the last two Briers.

For Martin, tonight is the first step toward all of that.

Walchuk figures the rink which led the battle against the curling establishment might be feeling a little bit out of place tonight, just like maybe the Ferbey rink felt a little out of place a couple weeks back when they played their first Grand Slam event and ended up getting bombed by Martin 7-1.

"Randy showed up in Sudbury and his rink didn't look like they were real comfortable about going out there against guys who wanted to beat them bad,'' Walchuk said of Ferbey and rink, who became the biggest names in the game while Martin and the others came close to entirely disappearing from the sports pages in the process.

"It hadn't been their venue for a while,'' said Walchuk. "Well, this hasn't been our venue for a while. Randy had a taste of it. Now it's our turn to have a taste of the other side of it.''

Martin said maybe the re-entry experience the other way got to Ferbey's last-rock thrower Dave Nedohin most.

"Especially Nedohin,'' is how Martin put it.

"He didn't curl like he felt very comfortable. But he will. And we will,'' he said of the process.

"I have to admit I do like the fact that everybody is back in everything again.''

BAD BLOOD

There's been bad blood between the two rinks. Both Ferbey and Martin found themselves as spokesmen for their sides of the war and were hardly shy when it came to expressing opinions.

"I couldn't sleep the night before that game with Ferbey. In my mind, because it was one of our tour events, there was a lot riding on that game. I felt a lot of pressure from the Grand Slam rinks to win that one. It was a big game for the Grand Slam group,'' said Martin.

Somehow Ferbey and Walchuk, friends dating back to when they won Briers together playing for Ryan, stayed friends throughout all the sniping.

They even owned a race horse together.

"Falcon Ripple,'' said Walchuk.

"When that horse got claimed on us, my daughter was so upset. But we made a profit. I wrote a check for $2,500 and got one back for $2,680. A profit of $180!''

But it wasn't about the money. Considering what the rinks were going through, they're both glad they had that horse.

Not everything is about money. Not the Brier. Not the Olympics. They're horses of a different colour. And that's what tonight is all about for Martin and his Olympians.


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