MCA still a good draw

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:08 AM ET

They hail from the land of grunge and Starbucks, and they come in search of solid competition and a plethora of games.

It's safe to say that Jason Larway's Seattle foursome is the only reigning national champ in the 467-rink field at the 117th annual MCA Men's Bonspiel, which kicked off last night at 24 curling clubs in and around Winnipeg.

Larway is using the world's largest bonspiel as the final tune-up for the biggest week of his curling life -- a 10-team event Feb. 19-26 in Madison, Wis., that will serve as both the U.S. national men's championship and the U.S. Olympic trials.

"When we put this team together last year, we kinda hoped to win this year," Larway said. "Winning (nationals) last year was kind of bonus.

"This year is obviously the big year. It's probably the biggest year in all of our curling careers, because this is the best chance we have of winning."

Larway's rink, which includes his brother Joel, Brandon product Doug Pottinger and Victoria native Bill Todhunter, qualified for the U.S. nationals/trials two weeks ago. Since Larway and his brother live in Seattle, Pottinger hails from Eden Prairie, Minn., and Todhunter makes his home in Appleton, Wis., Winnipeg is a great place to meet.

"This spiel is perfect, absolutely perfect," Jason Larway, 34, said yesterday. "We get a lot of games in a short period of time and we get a lot of good games against some good competition."

Larway opened the bonspiel last night with a 7-2 win over Gerald Guenther at Fort Rouge.

There are two other American rinks in the MCA that will also compete at the U.S. nationals/trials. Pete Fenson, who won the 2003 U.S. championship, and Scott Baird, a three-time American winner, both travelled from Bemidji, Minn., to compete against Manitoba's best.

Tim Somerville represented the U.S. at the last two Olympics, but he's battling a neck injury and won't be taking part in the trials.

The Larway brothers, who also won U.S. men's titles in 2001 and 1992, may have been born and raised in the U.S. northwest, but their curling roots are planted firmly in Canada's curling heartland. His dad was born in Melita and attended Brandon University, while his mom was born and raised in Wapella, Sask.

His dad's engineering job eventually took him to Seattle.

"Out of curiosity, he looked in the phone book and saw there was a curling club in Seattle," Jason said. "The rest is history."

SELECT WATCH: There are five provincial men's championship berths available through the MCA, and five notable squads still on the outside looking in -- Kerry Burtnyk, Bill Kuran, David Hamblin, Rob Ramage and Doug Riach -- all began that arduous quest last night with victories.

PEBBLES: The ceremonial first rock at last night's opening ceremonies was a thing of beauty. Bill Howie, called the "heart and soul" of the Morris Curling Club, delivered a draw to the button at the Pembina club. Howie had two Hamblin brothers -- Kevin and Doug -- sweeping for him and a third, 2004 MCA bonspiel grand aggregate winner David, holding the broom. The Hamblin clan also hails from Morris.


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