Slam will be great warm-up for Olys

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

His Olympic dream includes a warm-up against some of the world's best right here in his hometown before going for gold in Turin, Italy, this winter.

Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton would get that chance if he won the Canadian Curling Trials in Halifax, N.S., in December. Then he could be front-and-centre when the Grand Slam's $100,000 Canadian Open returns to Winnipeg's MTS Centre, Jan. 5-8, 2006.

'Pumped'

"It would be a great feeling if this could be our going-away event before the Olympics," Stoughton said yesterday. "I think any of the teams that are going to the trials will be coming to this event if they win and for whoever goes (to the Olympics), it will be a great experience. But it will be great for us in that we'd be in our home town and going to the Olympics would just be phenomenal.

"I mean, people will be pumped up about the trials, and the team going to the Olympics will probably be coming here and hopefully, we're that team."

Once again, a 15-team field will compete and although invitations will be sent to the top-ranked World Curling Tour teams, a number of Olympic-bound teams from outside Canada have expressed interest in competing here. That could offset those Canuck squads who cannot make it due to conflicts with their provincial playdowns that weekend.

Last year's inaugural event drew a then-record 47,000 fans and a record Sportsnet viewership of 545,000. But best of all, the Winnipeg Slam raised about $45,000 for the Children's Hospital Foundation. This year, organizers hope to hike that amount.

"Even though expectations were high, expectations were exceeded in terms of crowd support, the buzz around it, the media support," said Jon Mead, Stoughton's third who was a member of last year's committee (but begged off this year). "Everything was fantastic.

"Most of the teams that are going to be in the Olympic trials the month before are going to be invited to this event, plus potentially other teams from around the world that didn't qualify for the trials like the Wayne Middaugh squad. But you won't be able to beat this field."

The date for this year's Slam was switched from late January to facilitate two major concerts coming to town, said the Centre's operations manager Kevin Donnelly. While that pleased the Manitoba Curling Association because the Slam will no longer conflict with the provincial Scott Tournament of Hearts, it will conflict with both the Manitoba Curling Tour Championships and the junior provincial championships.

"The only way it wouldn't conflict with any other curling would be to have it in June," Donnelly said.

Event packages are now on sale for $79-$99 at Ticketmaster while individual ducats will be available Dec. 15.


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