'We know how to win'

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:08 AM ET

STEINBACH -- Johnny (Yuma) Usackis will make his record 30th appearance at the Manitoba men's provincial curling championship today.

Although Rick Mutton, the MCA's unofficial historian, says his sidekick and long-time teammate, Orest (Big O) Meleschuk is also making his 30th trip, Usackis claimed it is actually his 28th. Meleschuk did not argue.

For the skip of the Lac du Bonnet foursome, Barry (The Snake) Fry, it is apparently No. 20. Second Bob Lesko pulls up the rear with 10. That's a total of at least 88 over five decades.

Manitoba curling legends still on ice.

"They say experience counts," Fry joked on the eve of today's Safeway Select. "We may have too much experience.

"But it's been proven we know how to win."

Indeed. Fry won the 1979 Brier. Meleschuk won both the 1972 Brier and world championship. Usackis skipped a squad to the 1977 Manitoba title and went to the 1989 Brier as Meleschuk's third. Lesko, 64, was the fifth for both Usackis and Meleschuk in 1989.

MARVELLOUS MASTERS

And these Marvellous Masters made it back here while battling the natural effects of aging. Usackis, 64, has had one knee replaced and needs a new one for the other leg. Meleschuk, 65, says his arthritis keeps flaring up. Usackis calls it "gout." Fry, the oldest at 66, may be the healthiest.

And the foursome has no fear about taking on Charleswood's top-seeded Jeff Stoughton in its opening game today at 4 p.m.

"I've played against Jeff before, and they're a world-class team," Fry said. "We're looking forward to playing them. And there's a whole pile of teams here that they'd rather be playing in their first game than us."

Stoughton just shook his head in admiration of a squad cloaked in curling history.

"Wow, that's a lot of years," he said. "It's interesting, there's a world champion and Brier champion. They're 60-year-olds, and they're still plugging away. It shows that they can compete."

Fry pointed out that he came close to winning the Select in 2000, when he skipped a much younger outfit.

"I sort of wondered if that was the end of the road for me," he said. "Then, I got suckered into going into this."

Fry, who failed to qualify for the senior men's provincials, was undefeated in his Select zone, beating former MCT champion Murray Woodward of Ste. Anne in the final.

"When the adrenaline starts flowing, you never know what's going to happen," Meleschuk warned. "I've been curling long enough to know that anything can happen. We're competitive, that's the bottom line."

Fry, who has also qualified for the masters, added that Meleschuk was his third when he first started curling competitively back in 1963.

"Orest played third for me for three years running," he said. "I started with him, and now I'm going to finish with him. But I needed that 40-year break in between."

What makes this Select even more special for Fry is that his son, Ryan, will also be skipping a squad here.

"I believe it's the first time a father and a son have skipped a team in the same provincials," he said. "It's nice to be in an event where your son is one of the top seeds (No. 3)."

The kid was just as enthused.

"It's great," he said. "My dad's been one of the top players in this province all the way through growing up, and I think it just solidifies the type of heart and drive that he has to be able to still compete.

"You get those guys together and they get a fire under them, then watch out. They've got as much drive as the next guy. Whether their bodies will let them make the shots is another thing."


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