Hasn't hit him yet

CHAD SCARSBROOK -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

It's been almost a year, but sometimes Jean-Michel Menard still can't believe he's the defending Brier champion.

"When I look at the (Canadian Curling Association) website and you see Brier champions and you see your name, that's when you realize, geez, it really happened," said the Quebec skip yesterday, who's in town for the BDO Classic Canadian Open at MTS Centre.

The lives of Menard, Francois Roberge, Eric Sylvain and Maxime Elmaleh have changed dramatically since they came out of nowhere to upset Ontario's Glenn Howard last year in Regina.

"We're way busier in terms of curling," said Menard, 31. "We used to be a team that was playing every two weekends just around home. Since we won last year, we've been invited to lots of tournaments in Europe and Western Canada."

He's getting recognized on the streets of Quebec too -- no small task in a province where curling is just starting to gain some fame.

Menard put La Belle Province on the curling map when he became the first francophone born in the province to win the Brier and the first Quebec team to win since Jim Ursel's squad in 1977.

"It's getting better." said Menard of the sport's visibility back home. "If we compare ourselves to Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba or even Alberta, there's lots of work to be done. But if you compare what it was a couple of years ago and where we are now, we're getting there. Slowly but surely."

Menard's Brier win and subsequent second-place showing at the world championship have put a big target on the Quebec team's back, something they've already noticed this year.

"In the first part of the year every team we were playing again were playing like curling gods," said Menard. "Local clubs, they were making shots they usually don't make and passing through narrow ports. That was a little frustrating, but I guess it's something you have to live with when you've won the Brier and it's normal.

"I did the same thing a couple of years ago when I had the chance to play (Jeff) Stoughton and (Wayne) Middaugh, (Kevin) Martin or (Randy) Ferbey. You always try to play your best because you know they've won the whole thing. Teams are thinking the same playing against us. Now we're on the other side of the fence."

Menard has been playing average by his own admission this year but hopes to peak at the right time -- two weeks from now at the provincial championship. And if he wins that, he'll get a shot to realize his next goal.

"My dream would be to be the first Quebec team to win twice the Brier," he said.


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