Champs chasing big guns

GLEN DAWKINS -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:22 AM ET

Cory Naharnie knows that he and his teammates aren't going to be able to surprise anyone during this Manitoba Curling Tour season. But the lead on Ryan Fry's defending MCT champion team is looking forward to the challenge.

"In certain circles, people are really going to be gunning for us," said Naharnie, yesterday at a press conference to kick off the MCT's 14th season. "In another sense, there are a lot bigger fish out there to fry. There was a really good field out there in Dauphin but you didn't have Stoughton, Burtnyk or Peters. That's going to be our goal this year: to go after those bigger guns."

A two-time Manitoba junior champion, Fry skipped a new foursome to victory in last season's MCT Men's Championship in Dauphin. As reigning MCT champions, Fry's St. Vital team and women's champion Barb Spencer of Fort Rouge qualified for the Canada Cup West bonspiel in Edmonton, Dec. 15-19.

"We've already earned our spot to the Canada Cup West bonspiel so we're going to go to as many Manitoba Curling Tour events as possible to sharpen our skills so that we're ready when it's time to go to play to get into the Olympic Trials (next December)," said Spencer.

Fry's team also won the MCT berth for the provincial Safeway Select in Selkirk. Following a recommendation from the Manitoba Curling Association Safeway Select Review Committee, this season's Labatt MCT Championships have been moved forward from their usual February dates to early January.

Starting next season, the MCT men's champion will qualify straight into the Safeway Select instead having to wait a year. If necessary, the 2005 champion will play off against the 2006 champion for the berth in the 2006 Safeway Select.

"It does make a lot of sense," said Naharnie. "You're on a roll and all of a sudden you go from winning a (MCT) Championship to going out and trying to win the Select. Curling is all about who's hot and who's not."

"That's what we hear every year from the winner, 'Geez, I wish we could go into the Select next week, we're playing great,' " said MCT President Andy Stewart. "But you've got to wait a year and the dynamics can change. That's what's going to be really great about that part."

The schedule begins with next weekend's $48,000 Brandon Wheat City Classic men's event. The season wraps up with the Labatt MCT Championships, Jan. 7-9 at Ste. Anne and Steinbach curling clubs. With two clubs serving as co-hosts and four sheets of ice at each, the women's division has expanded to 12 teams to go with a 24-team men's division.

Hopefully, Spencer said, the expanded field will encourage more women's teams to play on the MCT because "the benefits of going to this championship have been great in the past."

This year's tour will feature 20 men's and seven women's events. Each cashspiel champion will qualify for the MCT Championships. The field will be filled out by non-winners which are the highest in money earnings on the tour.

As well, five men's and one women's MCT events have been designated by the Canadian Curling Association as cashspiels at which Canada Cup Bonspiel qualifying points and Canadian Team Ranking System points may be earned.


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