Heat's on the ice men

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 1:01 PM ET

HALIFAX -- It's curling's Big Gulp.

It's the Olympic Trials and the team outfits come with built-in tight collars.

Curlers who are cool as cucumbers at Briers and big money bonspiels can turn into Eugene Hritzuks.

Hritzuk, you may remember, was not the Chicoutimi Cucumber at the '88 Brier in that Quebec locale. The Saskatchewan skip had a last rock shot to win the Brier and didn't get it to the hog line.

Here you'll see that a lot. And from the least likely of curlers.

Here, each loss can be devastating.

At the Briers and Worlds, you don't often see players storm through the mixed zone when they lose, cursing and throwing things and not stopping to say a @#$%&*# word.

There's real roaring at the 'Roar of the Rings.'

'A LOT MORE BROOM TOSSING'

"You're going to see a lot of frustrated people. You're going to see a lot more broom tossing,'' says Randy Ferbey who, strangely, will wear black here while Kevin Martin will wear white. Not symbolically. That's the color of uniforms they gave them.

"This is not like a Brier or a World Curling Championship when, if you lose, you walk away and reload to get back and try to win it the next year,'' said Ferbey.

"This is every four years. This is the ultimate bonspiel.''

Exactly, says Kevin Martin, who didn't have anybody on his rink pulling a Hritzuk in the closest-to-the-button competition (one shot per player, 37.8 cm to 157.3) to win last-rock advantage against Ferbey in today's lid lifter.

Martin says it'll maybe look normal for a day or two. And then ...

"You won't see it so much early. But in the last couple of days ...''

Don Walchuk said it's tough to explain to people the intensity involved. It's in the stands. People don't come to this to cheer for provinces. And the Olympic Trials version of the Brier Patch isn't quite so populated with curlers anywhere close to closing time.

"There's a different feeling at this event,'' said Walchuk, who throws third rocks for Martin.

"It's a different pressure than any other time,'' says Colleen Jones, Canada's most successful female curler who at age 45 is here in her home town trying to get to the one event which is missing from her resume.

"Some run with it and some are run over by it. Players who never seem to get the yips get them here and when you get them here they make you look uglier than you can imagine.

"It's a different week with a different rhythm,'' she says of the combined men's and women's event which features two games one day and one game the next.

PLAYOFF SYSTEM IS DIFFERENT

Not only is the schedule a different deal, one which only somebody who had played in a world championships prior to the women and men becoming separate events would have dealt with before, but the playoff system is different.

There is no Page playoff system with top two teams playing in the 1-2 game and the loser going into the semifinal. Here, one team finished first and goes direct to the final. Second and third play in a semifinal.

"There's nowhere near the same wiggle room,'' says Jones. "It adds so much pressure to the round robin.''

And this isn't like a Brier, Scott or Worlds. There are no Territories teams or Japans. This event goes 10 deep not four or five.

"The prize is extreme. And second place is the square root of nothing.''

Walchuk laughed.

"All you get for finishing second is to look in the program four years from now and every four years after that and see the linescore and percentages of how you lost the final.

But to win ...

"Winning and going to the Salt Lake Olympics four years ago was the highlight of my life for sure. I enjoyed everything about it except for losing the final.''

How good would it be to be on the Olympic team? Scott Bailey, selected to be fifth of the Martin team for the tournament, put it best.

"I'd have to thank Kevin for the rest of my life.''


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