A new time slot and the extra perk introduced last year have proved to be a boon for this year's Labatt Manitoba Curling Tour Championships, which start in Ste. Anne and Steinbach this morning.
Because future winners will get berths into the Safeway Select the same season, the championships will now be played earlier in the season. This year, they will lead right into the Select city -- and some rural -- zone playdowns, both the men's and women's annual bonspiels and the provincial Scott Tournament of Hearts. Not to mention the Grand Slam's Canadian Open at the end of this month.
"It's been easier (to lure teams) because of the timing of it," Bob Picken, the events co-ordinator said yesterday. "When it was after the Scott, it was such a downer for some of those teams to go in it."
The fact that this year's winner will meet next year's winner, if both are eligible, for the Select spot, has not deterred participation, Picken said. However, the foursomes have had to ensure that they will meet Manitoba Curling Association regulations, such as all being from the same club. Then there's the carrot of a berth into next year's Canada Cup West Bonspiel that goes to the winner. The men's champ will also earn $7,000 while the women's winner will pocket $4,000.
This year's event has drawn the likes of Grand Slammers Dave Boehmer, now of Grain Exchange, and Fort Garry's Vic Peters, as well as Swan River's reigning Manitoba champion Brent Scales.
"Those names draw other teams as well," Picken said. "We've got a really good field."
That includes defending champions Ryan Fry of St. Vital and Barb Spencer, as well as Janet Harvey and Joelle Duguid, all of Fort Rouge.
Play opens with five draws today.
ENTRY FLOOD: The MCA has been flooded with so many entries into its annual bonspiel this week that employees had yet to come up with an overall total by late afternoon yesterday.
"Certainly there is still room to get in and we're encouraging people to contact us," said MCA executive director Ian Staniloff, who is not panicking over reports that the MCA is unlikely to meet its goal of 512.
Staniloff pointed out that the big spiel was only two short of the perfect draw, despite similar doomsday projections last year.
Staniloff also admitted that the MCA denied a number of entries into both the Junior Christmas Bonspiel and the Select city zone playdowns because they arrived past deadline.
"You're trying to encourage participation but we just couldn't accept them because they came in too late and we have to set the draws up," Staniloff said.
BITERS: The Americans will reportedly attempt to lure the 2008 men's world curling championship to the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D. You know, the same site where some other championship recently skated to Maple-Leaf-wrapped glory. That will likely be the same year that Winnipeg lands the Brier ... The Slam's Canadian Open sold its 2,000th ticket package yesterday, organizers said.