MCT opens in Brandon

GLEN DAWKINS -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:03 AM ET

Back in February, Renaud Gagne was settling down to watch the Daytona 500 NASCAR race on TV when his phone rang.

It was the Ste. Anne curler's third, Chris Suchy, informing Gagne that he was leaving the 2005 Manitoba Curling Tour champion's team and taking second Hub Perrin and lead Brad Hawkins with him.

It was almost enough to ruin a pleasant afternoon watching his favourite driver Jeff Gordon win his third Daytona 500.

As a result, the defending champion will be playing third for old friend Brent Braemer when the MCT begins its 15th season with the Manitoba Lotteries Wheat City Classic next weekend in Brandon.

"I had a few offers to skip for other teams," said Gagne, yesterday at the annual MCT news conference at the Rossmere Country Club. "But I couldn't pass up a chance to curl with Brent."

Meanwhile, Suchy, Perrin and Hawkins will team up with Mark Lukowich. Rounding out the Braemer foursome will be Mike Friesen at second and Gagne's brother Joel at lead.

"We're all old Assiniboine Memorial boys so it's good to play together again," said Gagne.

Special playoff

The split has forced the MCT to hold a special playoff in November to determine an opponent to meet the 2006 MCT champion for a berth in the 2006 provincial Safeway Select.

"I think our final decision was fair and equitable," said MCT president Andy Stewart. "It's just an unfortunate thing that happened."

"That's a game I've been looking forward to since the MCT made their decision (to have a playoff)," said Gagne.

This year's tour will feature 22 events and more than $490,000 in cash prizes. The tour has added two events: the Skins Game At Grand Marais, Nov. 25-27; and the Courtesy Freight Curling Classic, Dec. 1-4 in Thunder Bay, Ont. The Lake of the Woods Days Inn Cash Spiel, Nov. 4-6 in Kenora, Ont., is back after a one-year absence due to ice plant upgrading while the Wheat City Classic has added an eight-team women's event.

As well, the former Labatt Valour Road Cash Spiel has been expanded to include both the Asham Arena (Valour Road) and West Kildonan clubs in men's and women's divisions and has been renamed the Asham 8-ender Open (Oct. 6-10). The MCT also has retained the former McCain SuperSpiel West in Portage which has been renamed the Meyers Norris Penny Prairie Classic (Oct. 28-31).

The tour wraps up with the Labatt MCT Championships, Jan. 6-8 in Swan River and Bowsman, with 24-team men's and 12-team women's teams.

"The tour seems to have become a lot more stable over the last couple of years," said Stewart, MCT president since 1997.

Applauded

With the addition of the women's event at the Wheat City Classic, there are now eight events with women's divisions. It's a move applauded by Cathy Overton-Clapham, the third for Jennifer Jones' defending Manitoba and Canadian champion team.

"It's great that the Manitoba Curling Tour is growing," said Overton-Clapham, whose team will only play in the Wheat City Classic and the Casinos of Winnipeg Women's Classic (Oct. 21-24) at Fort Rouge due to their commitments as Canadian champions. "It's so hard to get sponsorship to travel outside of town so having the tour is important."


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