Top guns shoot it out

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

The last time Dave Nedohin, Randy Ferbey and Co. threw rocks in Winnipeg, they walked off the ice world champions.

Today, the three-time Brier champs begin a more modest, albeit much more lucrative, quest, gunning for the $30,000 top prize in the Canadian Open, part of the game's Grand Slam series.

The four-day event, at the new, downtown entertainment complex, marks the Slam's first foray into a major arena, and Nedohin, originally from Winnipeg, can't wait.

"I'm really looking forward to coming out and playing there," Nedohin told The Sun from Edmonton earlier this week. "Any time you play in an arena, it sort of brings out the best in everyone. Obviously Winnipeg has kind of warmed up to the idea of the Grand Slams. It's a very, very talented field. They're in for a treat."

The event features many of the game's biggest names, including former world champions such as Ferbey of Alberta and Winnipeg's Jeff Stoughton, Olympic medalists like Edmonton's Kevin Martin and Pal Trulsen of Norway, hot-shot cash spielers Wayne Middaugh of Ontario and John Morris of Calgary, and Quebec folk hero Guy Hemmings.

Former Canadian champs Vic Peters and Kerry Burtnyk of Winnipeg are also in the 15-team field, making it one of the strongest this city has ever seen.

"It's a who's who," Martin said. "The hot hand will win."

The field is divided into three pools of five teams each. Eight teams make the single-elimination playoffs: the top one in each pool, plus the five with the next-best records.

Tie-breakers and quarter-finals go on Saturday, semifinals and the final Sunday.

"In our minds, we're going to be close at the end of the week," Nedohin said. "Are we going to be good enough to win? Who knows? If we play as well as we have in the last month and a half, we're going to be close."

The Ferbey team is curling full-time this year, so the prize money is a big incentive.

The foursome has accumulated about $150,000 in winnings, so far.

"You've got to be playing well to win these things," Ferbey said. "Because I don't think there's a bad team in the event."

Other teams, such as Martin and Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont., are still trying to earn spots in next fall's Canadian trials for the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy. The higher they finish this week, the more points they collect towards that goal.

Martin, leading the points race, says he has his work cut out for him.

"That's why I love the Slam so much -- they're tremendous fields all the time," Martin said. "That's what curling's all about, any sport is all about. The best playing the best."

Advance ticket sales indicate at least 3,000 fans are expected for each draw, with the weekend playoffs expected to draw many more.

Capacity at the MTS Centre will be roughly 8,800, with just the lower bowl in use.

SHOW ME THE MONEY

A potential controversy surrounding the prize money from the last Slam event has been averted.

It seems some Slammers were peeved they still haven't received their cheques from the Masters of Curling in Humboldt, Sask., last month. There were even rumours a few threatened to boycott this week's event.

But Canadian Open organizer Jon Mead, who plays third for Jeff Stoughton, says it never came to that.

Stoughton won the Humboldt spiel and the $30,000 top prize.

Mead says an administrative error delayed processing of the cheques.

They were to be handed out today.


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