Thirst for competition

ANGELA MACISAAC -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

The divide between Canadian and European curling may not be as vast as the difference between Canadian and European beer.

But the Calgary rink skipped by Shannon Kleibrink is going to have one last taste of home brew before it departs for Pinerolo, Italy, and the Turin Winter Olympics.

Kleibrink, third Amy Nixon, second Glenys Bakker and lead Christine Keshen today kick off their title defence of the Strauss Canada Cup in Kamloops, B.C.

Calgary's Heather Rankin is also in the hunt on the women's side, while John Morris will battle in the men's draw. Nixon can't wait to get her Olympic tuneup underway.

"We have to be prepared to play this event well," the 28-year-old said. "This is our third year and it's a great event.

"It's one of the few events where women make as much as the men. It's a huge amount of money."

Should the Calgary foursome repeat as champions, it wins $33,500, plus $750 for each round-robin victory, out of the $180,000 purse split between men and women.

There's no easy game. Kleibrink opens this morning against New Brunswick's Sandy Comeau and this evening against Winnipeg's Janet Harvey, who won the Manitoba title on the weekend.

Tomorrow, Kleibrink has Regina's Jan Betker, last year's Canada Cup runner-up who didn't come around enough on a freeze attempt in the third end, leaving Kleibrink an open hit for three and a 7-6 win.

On Thursday, it's Newfoundland champ Heather Strong and Alberta runner-up Renee Sonnenberg of Grande Prairie to finish the round-robin.

It's a chance to find the groove Kleibrink and Co. had at the Olympic trials they won at Halifax in December.

Certainly not like this month's Bern Damencup, a bonspiel in Switzerland at which they finished 3-3. But don't look at the scores, even though they beat Russian Olympic entry Liudmila Privivkova 7-2.

"On paper," said Nixon, "a lot of people look at the results and say, ooh, we didn't do so well. I can see that. But I feel really good about it, about the opportunity to see those teams and the opportunity for our coach and our fifth to scout those teams. Be in that environment, deal with the jet lag and feel like we know what we're doing."

And they studied European curling and the culture of the sport.

Right away, Kleibrink noticed the ice sheets are a foot wider than Canada's.

"They tend to use the corner guards more than we do," the 37-year-old skip said.

"We always wondered why they did that when they came to Canada but it's because they have more room. And no, we won't make it part of our repertoire."

Then there were the high-fives.

Keshen admitted she was a little unnerved at first when their opponents would tag hands on missed shots.

"We respect our competitors and we would never do that," the 27-year-old said. "But other countries are different and you have to respect the way they treat the competition."

Of course, the respect goes both ways. Most teams anticipate the opportunity to play the Canadians, often considered the heavyweights of curling.

Despite this, Kleibrink would never underestimate the competition, no matter whether it's a bonspiel or the Olympics.

"This is the same as going to the trials," she said. "People ask, 'What are your chances?' We say there are 10 teams, so one in 10.

"Some countries may not have as deep a field but they are sending their best."

And then she looked up, grinning, and said: "But I wouldn't put us last."


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