It's a scramble!

CON GRIWKOWSKY -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:30 AM ET

INNISFAIL -- Wham, bam. Thanks for coming.

It'll be a short provincials for any team that can't scramble into at least a tiebreaker spot at this year's men's curling provincials.

An innovative 12-team format means a big change from the eight-team round-robin format that was introduced in 1991. It promises to be as intense a scramble as the one under the modified triple knockout used prior to that.

In this survivor game, any team that stumbles could be headed home by Friday afternoon.

It's a format players helped design, but one that could turn into a tiebreaker nightmare. The field is split into two pools of six teams each, meaning only five round-robin games.

"I think it's good for us because we don't curl very much," said Kurt Balderston of Sexsmith, whose team was about two shots short in last year's final loss to Randy Ferbey.

"The seven-game format was too much curling for us. This should be just about right." Balderston is one of eight rinks that qualified through the traditional playdowns grind.

Mark Johnson and Rob Armitage qualified through the inaugural Alberta Bonspiel series.

Johnson earned his spot in late November and that's caused its own set of unique problems, said third Rob Bucholz.

"Our biggest challenge was to stay busy," said Bucholz, whose team won the Viking Fridge Spiel last weekend. "As it turns out, we found it tricky. What really helped was Viking last week. Just participating so close to the provincials, we now feel we're on top of our game.

"I like the extra teams here, I like the 12. I don't know how else you would do it. It puts so much emphasis on winning your pool."

Pool winners play off against each other, with the winner of that game going directly into Sunday's final and the loser waiting for the winners of a playoff dogfight.

It's a crossover format with the second-place finisher in one pool playing the third-place finisher in the other. That means any team not winning a pool would have to win four games to win the province. And that doesn't include tiebreakers.

Right now, the favourites to win their pools are defending champ Randy Ferbey and Canadian Team Ranking System leader John Morris.

Morris understands no system is perfect, but sees a weakness with so many playoff teams.

"I think it's a big step by the ACF (Alberta Curling Federation). It shows they're willing to adapt.

"The only thing I'm not a huge fan of is 50% of the teams make the playoffs. The rest sounds pretty good."


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