Setting the bar high

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

Officials with the Canadian Curling Association made it official, then they put down the gauntlet: now that you've got the 2008 Brier, Winnipeg, you'd better make it work.

"We want you to beat the record," the CCA's Warren Hansen said yesterday. "We're all going to be shooting for 282,000."

As in sold tickets, which would be 15 more than Edmonton peddled when it hosted the Brier in '05.

And, to a man, they actually seemed convinced it can be done.

"The Brier hasn't been here that often in the last 20, 30 years," Hansen said.

"So I believe it to be quite doable."

Ditto, says Lorne Hamblin, part of the local organizing committee, whose job is the business of this Brier.

"Certainly," Hamblin said. "I think it's gonna be, and I'll use this cautiously, an easy sell. If we break the record, that's outstanding. That's what I'm challenging our people. But as long as that arena is sold for every draw, every playoff and the final, which we're sure it will be. It'll be failure if we don't."

Barry Greenberg, the chair of the local committee, was only a tad more cautious.

"We'll just do the best we can and leave a nice legacy for Manitoba," Greenberg said. "We want to make the event as memorable as we can."

Fine, but a record turnout?

That'll be like trying to make an out-turn draw to the button through two low guards on a straight-running sheet of curling club ice.

Edmonton had everything going for it, not the least of which was the presence of a local rink (Randy Ferbey's dynasty) that had won three of the last four Canadian titles.

Team Ferbey capped a storybook Brier by winning it on home ice, too.

"The key thing that made Edmonton work was hometown team in the event, and hometown team makes the final," Hansen acknowledged. "That accounted for about a 30,000 to 40,000 difference in our attendance."

Ferbey's wasn't just a local rink, but a local rink with star status.

Here, in the supposed heartland of curling, we haven't had a Brier champ since '99, when Jeff Stoughton won it.

Which kind of made Premier Gary Doer's claim yesterday that the best curlers in the world are from Manitoba ring a little hollow.

Doer got one thing right: we're among the best at throwing a party.

And that's where this Brier already has a leg or two up on the last one, the underwhelming Brier of '98.

Also known as the no-name Brier, it couldn't break the 150,000 mark in ticket sales.

Aside from the unrecognizable field, it was played in the old Winnipeg Arena and featured a Brier Patch (aka, the world's biggest beer garden) that was a bus ride away, at the old Labatt brewery.

"Those kind of setups always make life difficult," Hansen said. "The setup we have here is ideal. Perfect."

From March 8-16, '08, fans will enjoy relative comfort while watching the action at the new downtown rink and while socializing at the Convention Centre, a short walk away.

So we've got that going for us.

Now why can't we get a team back in the hunt?

"That's a good question," Stoughton said. "You sort of wonder."

Just like you wonder if Winnipeg can really challenge that attendance record.

There's your challenge, curling fans.


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