Changes are afoot as the world's best curling Super League kicks off its schedule tonight at the Saville Centre.
A trimmed-down 24-team lineup, game-night inclusion of the women's Super League, a new title sponsor (Overtime Group) and a possible television package highlight this year's fine-tuning.
Since the next men's world championships are being held in Edmonton, there's sure to be more focus on the roarin' game in the leadup to the big event next spring.
League honcho Mike Lanteigne figures there's about a "75-80%" chance television coverage will resume at some point this season.
"It'll be a big thing for this league to get it back on the air," said Lanteigne, confident he has come up with a formula that has made production costs more feasible.
There's no question the product had developed a cult following in the Edmonton market until the plug was pulled just over a decade ago.
There's also a back-to-the-future feel in the size of the field as the Super League moves back to a more compact lineup selected on a points system. At 24 teams, it's well below the all-time high of 32 just three seasons ago.
And, just because a team has qualified for Super League play this year, they won't be able to buy themselves next year's lineup if they're not good enough.
"It's not just any Johnny two-skidoos that can get in now," said Lanteigne. "For the sake of competition, it's now more of an elite league."
Along with the usual suspects, the most intriguing addition is a squad skipped by 2006 world junior champion Charlie Thomas of Grande Prairie.
- Kevin Martin, the 2004 Super League champ and defending Alberta champ, unveils his new lineup featuring John Morris. Interest is running high about how Morris, who skipped two rinks to world junior titles, will adjust to his new position.
Martin's team is fresh off a $9,000 win at the Shorty Jenkins Classic last weekend.
WHAT'S UP IN MR. ROGERS' NEIGHBOURHOOD?
- Two-time Canadian and 2005 world senior men champ Les Rogers is also fielding a new lineup. The rest of the championship rink is being skipped by James Pahl, at least for now.
Rumour has it Pat Ryan plans to commute from Red Deer and take a turn skipping the foursome ... or find a fit with another rink.
- Heather Nedohin is back with Deb Santos. Nedohin is headed off to the national mixed in mid-November after helping Ted Appelman win the Alberta mixed earlier this year.
- Defending champ Jamie King returns with a juggled lineup, as does Alberta runner-up Mark Johnson. The curling cop claimed Alberta's defending champ bye after Martin cleaned house.
- Randy Ferbey, the 2003 champ, will give the Super League a pass for the second straight year.
"They just don't have time to dedicate in their busy schedule," said Lanteigne.
With the cashspiel season now underway and the playdowns season just a few months away, there's going to be plenty of intriguing angles for curling fans to chew on.
EXTRA ENDS: Rob Schlender ($6,000) and Renee Sonnenberg ($3,000) won their events in the September Shoot-Out bonspiel at the Saville Centre this past weekend. Former Martin third Don Walchuk qualified and picked up $1,500.