Only select few advance

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:05 AM ET

David Hamblin is hoping that local curling history repeats itself this week.

Last year, the junior men's world champion (2002) entered the Manitoba Curling Association's annual bonspiel still seeking that elusive Safeway Select spot. Not only did he earn that berth but his foursome wound up winning the whole damn thing.

Tomorrow, Hamblin enters the 117th spiel once again hunting for a ticket to the Select.

"We're definitely hungry," Hamblin, supported by third Ross Derksen, second Kevin Hamblin (his brother) and Ross McCannell, said from Morris. "We haven't thought too much about defending our Grand Aggregate title, we just want to get our spot."

Hamblin began the season with a bang, beating Alberta's Olympic silver medallist Kevin Martin in a World Curling Tour event final to win $16,000. But that promising start has faded somewhat since.

"We played pretty well after that," Hamblin said. "But we would qualify, then lose to the eventual winner in our next game. We've struggled a little bit in the last month or so. We haven't been playing terrible, just OK. But we're definitely not playing at the level we're capable of playing."

Hamblin did earn about $23,000 on the cashspiel season, then ran into a couple of hot teams in his rural zone, won by La Salle's Randy Neufeld.

"The beauty of the MCA (bonspiel) is that once you get on a roll, you just keep it going and look to see where you're at four days later," Hamblin said.

Just like he did last year.

Hamblin is not the only high-profile skip still battling for one of the last five Select spots available through the world's biggest bonspiel. Assiniboine Memorial's Kerry Burtnyk, St. Vital's Dave Smith, Granite's John Bubbs and Valour Road's Arnold Asham are among others still in the hunt.

Entries were up to 465 late yesterday afternoon, still 15 short of the total drawn up.

SLAM HYPE: The end of the big bonspiel will slide right into the Grand Slam's Canadian Open, to be played at the MTS Centre, Jan. 27-30. Not only have organizers now sold more than 2,400 weekly packages but they have been overwhelmed with the number of requests for media accreditation.

"I'm really happy," said Tricia Schers, manager of communications for the Children's Hospital Foundation. "We've gotten great corporate support and the excitement is starting to build."

Organizers are hoping to raise at least $100,000 for the Foundation.

"To be the first curling event in there is pretty exciting," Burtnyk said on the weekend. "I think the fans will really be treated to some great curling, as all the Slams are. We're really looking forward to that."

Some of those curlers will pay a visit to kids at the Children's Hospital on Friday.

BITERS: The MCA is still discussing the possibility of awarding next year's Select to Steinbach ... Between visits to the provincial Scott Tournament of Hearts in Souris, MCA executive director Ian Staniloff plans to scout out the Slam's curling setup at the MTS Centre as the MCA is still preparing to submit official bids to host both the 2008 Brier in Winnipeg and the 2009 Olympic trials in Brandon at the end of the current season ... The 2006 national senior championships have been awarded to Summerside, P.E.I.

COMING UP

The fourth annual Ironman Outdoor Curling Bonspiel will be held on the Assiniboine River at The Forks, Feb. 3-6. All proceeds go to the Heart and Stroke Foundation and is limited to the first 48 teams entered at $100 each. To enter, call 204-831-8816 or register online at www.ironmancurling.com.


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