Crashing the party

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:50 AM ET

In his first game, he took out the world's top-ranked team, former world champ, Jeff Stoughton. By yesterday afternoon, he'd added former Brier champ Wayne Middaugh and Olympic gold medalist Paal Trulsen to his hit list, clinching a playoff spot with a 3-0 start.

So just who the heck is this Jean-Michel Menard, anyway, and what's he doing in the Canadian Open of Curling?

It turns out he really shouldn't be.

"Technically, no," the friendly Quebecer was saying, after yesterday's 7-3 romp over Trulsen. "Technically, we shouldn't be winning. We're the lowest seeded team in our bracket. We should be 0-4."

Heck, they should be home in Quebec, getting ready for the provincials, not exchanging takeouts with the best teams in the world.

OPENING

That was the plan, at least until two weeks ago, when Menard figured he'd call organizers of the Grand Slam to see if, by any chance, there was an opening in Winnipeg.

A few Slam teams couldn't make it because of their provincial playdowns, so what did he have to lose?

"They probably wouldn't have called us," Menard's third, Francois Roberge, said.

No, probably not -- not at No. 24 in the world rankings.

As fate would have it, though, "they got down to our number," as Menard put it.

Next thing he knows, he's playing the giants -- and killing them.

Although he did finally lose a game to Dave Boehmer yesterday, nobody had better take him lightly going into today's playoff round. Because there's something deadly about a team that has nothing to lose.

"We're the underdog, so we just go out there and give our best," Menard said. "We don't play a lot of bonspiels on the World Curling Tour because of our jobs. I don't think we're a top-notch team like Kevin Martin. But we can beat these guys once in a while."

If they keep doing it, they'll nearly double the $36,000 in winnings they've collected this season.

When you think about it, that's not a bad total. And when you look closer, this isn't a bad team.

Roberge has been a skip for some 20 years, taking teams which included current lead Maxime Elmaleh and second Eric Sylvain to a pair of Briers, and reaching the semifinal in one (2000).

Menard made it to a Brier, too -- as the lead for Guy Hemmings two years ago.

"It's basically Francois Roberge's team," Menard said.

"And the lead retired. So I took his spot and we scrambled the positions, 'cause I'm a terrible sweeper. So I have to skip."

Actually, Menard, 29, has dreamed of making it big with his own team for years.

And the refreshing thing is, he still means the Canadian championship, unlike some of these Slammers.

"The Grand Slam thing is a big event, but they're, what, three or four years old? When I grew up watching curling, it was the Brier," Menard said. "When I threw my first rocks as a junior, my goal was to go to the Brier. As a skip. It hasn't happened yet."

That's probably what it'll take for Menard to get out from under Hemmings' shadow.

Quebec's curling folk hero continues to get all the attention, even though he hasn't won anything lately and wasn't going anywhere with an 0-3 record heading into last night's draw.

"That's Guy," Menard said. "They all want to see him. Guy's the guy. He's a show-stopper, and a curling event. I'm more of a low-profile guy."

With a much better team, we might add.

Just ask Stoughton or Trulsen.

"The guy's won the gold medal at the Olympics, and we end up winning the game ... maybe we're not that bad, after all," Menard said.

He was grinning like a Cheshire cat when he said it, too.

For someone who had to invite himself to the party, he seems to be having a very good time.


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