Golden year in curling

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

Colour the last curling campaign with a 'gold-en' sheen.

The Olympics simply dominated the curling scene last season, whether it was the Olympic trials or the Winter Olympic Games in Italy.

Newfoundland's Brad Gushue -- who eked out a victory over Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton in the Canadian Curling Trials final -- won Canada's first men's Olympic gold curling medal in Italy. And he did it with the legendary Russ Howard parachuting in at second and calling the shots for Gushue. The kids from The Rock have been getting the attention of rock stars ever since, even getting streets named after them.

Stoughton rebounded from that disappointment to win Winnipeg's Grand Slam, then record a record fifth Manitoba men's title (for a skip) in Steinbach. Both Stoughton and second Garry Van Den Berghe also tied Bryan Wood's Manitoba record of five Brier appearances. Stoughton, however, suffered a meltdown at the Brier when pushed too far by a CCA official, and failed to make the playoffs. His $1,000 fine was later rescinded and he watched Quebec's Jean-Michel Menard upset Ontario's Russ Howard in the final.

After the season, Van Den Berghe left to play a softer schedule in B.C., where his family lives, and third Jon Mead decided to take at least the year off. Ryan Fry replaced Mead at third with Rob Fowler added at second. Stoughton, who lost his exemption into the 2007 Safeway Select as the defending champ because he lost half his team, has already qualified for the Canada Cup where a pre-trials tournament spot will be at stake.

Meanwhile, Manitoba's Kerry Burtnyk, who had decided to take at least a year off after failing to qualify for the 2005 trials, returned with a bang. With young Dan Kammerlock at third, Burtnyk either won or was in the money in five of his first six cashspiels and has also earned a Canada Cup spot (CTRS points).

The only other men's highlight came when Manitoba's Jim Coleman won gold at the Optimist International 18-and-under championship.

And yes, the CCA finally confirmed that the 2008 Brier is coming to Winnipeg.

JONES HOT AGAIN

On the women's side, Alberta's Shannon Kleibrink clipped B.C.'s Kelly Scott, a transplanted Manitoban, in the Olympic trials final, erasing the memory of losing the 1997 trials final to the late Sandra Schmirler. Kleibrink then overcame her teammates' illnesses to capture Olympic bronze in Italy.

Scott rebounded by beating Manitoba's Jennifer Jones, the defending champ, in the final of the last women's national championship to be known as the Scott. Jones, who had suffered from kidney stones at the trials, rebounded to win the inaugural women's Players' Championship -- Manitoba's only national title last season -- and the Canada Cup berth that goes with it. With Dana Allerton returning to replace Georgina Wheatcroft at lead, Jones won the Cup qualifier anyway and currently leads the CTRS women's standings, which is another route to the 2009 trials.

And let's not forget the second edition of Fire on Ice, the risque women's curling calendar. We are now gathering a list of suggestions for which Manitobans should be included in next year's edition.

TUBE WARS

Although it is honouring the last year of its contract this season, the CBC was dumped by the CCA in favour of TSN -- after a year of turmoil over the original CBC-CCA deal. And the man responsible for that original deal, CEO Dave Parkes, is now calling it quits.

Rather ironically, CBC then saved the Grand Slam from certain death by replacing Sportsnet after it had suddenly abandoned its partner. Funny thing is, no one is complaining about the much-despised CBC digital network, Country Canada, that is broadcasting Slam semifinals now.

OFF-ICE WOES

Manitoba is being plagued by a serious lack of entries into its various zones, partly due to the CCA's new competitive card system where a curler must pay $35 every time he or she sneezes (or something like that). And partly because it keeps losing teams with few replacements. The MCA also asked the Manitoba Curling Tour to move its championship into December where it suddenly conflicted with the Canada Cup qualifiers AND the senior zones. Gee, city planners must be on the MCA's board now.

TRAGIC ENDING

But the season is ending on a tragic note. Promising junior Kyle Flett died as the result of a snowmobile accident and Heather Mowat is recovering slowly from a motor vehicle accident. Their families both need and appreciate your support.


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