Finishing touch?

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

DAUPHIN -- Valour Road skip Dave Smith does not know if he will last the week on the spanking new Credit Union Place ice. Again.

And even with half a foursome that he's still breaking in, Charleswood's Jeff Stoughton is determined to not only defend his Manitoba title but take another slide toward qualifying for the next Olympic trials at the 2007 Safeway Championship, which starts today.

After Smith qualified for last year's men's provincial curling championship, a bad hip forced him to step aside, allowing then-clubmate Vic Peters to take over. Smith qualified for this year's provincial playdowns through the MCA's 119th Annual Bonspiel, then limped out of the rink after his last match.

"(Last year) was kind of a write-off for me because we had Vic step in there," Smith said yesterday. "I don't think things are much better this year. I'll open up and see how far we get.

"It's still bothering me. I'll be there. I'll play all the games but if it affects how I play, it's not going to be a good thing for us."

Smith's problem has finally been diagnosed as misaligned vertebrae and he likely needs corrective surgery.

"I guess the pain comes from nerves that affect the back of my leg," said the former Manitoba champ. "I've got to see the specialist to see how serious the surgery would be. There's an injury to the back probably from years ago, which is causing the vertebrae to misalign a little bit which is causing the pain."

And that pain seldom goes away, even with painkillers.

"It's aching a little bit," said Smith, who is one of the smoothest shotmakers in the game when he is on. "But the games that it's bad, it's the third or fourth end that it's the worst and it kind of aches through the rest of the game. Usually, an hour and a half, two hours later, you can just feel it ease off. It will still ache but it's not like we're limping around type of thing."

Stoughton, meanwhile, did not exactly limp through the season with his new lineup but his squad failed to finish any cashspiel it entered.

"I guess we got to a final, three semis and a quarter-final so, we're pretty happy with the way things went," said Stoughton, who now has Ryan Fry at third and Rob Fowler at second to go along with returning lead Steve Gould. "We just need to finish it off and hopefully, we can do it here. It's always nice to win anything. Even winning our zone undefeated was a nice thing to do. Out here, you just never know. We want to finish something, that's for sure. This would be a nice first."

It would actually be a record sixth Manitoba victory and a return to Hamilton, which is hosting this year's Brier.

GOOD MEMORIES

"Hamilton has some good memories and bad memories," Stoughton said. "Our first Brier (1991) was in Hamilton and we missed the playoffs by a game. The second time we played in the Copps Coliseum was the 1996 worlds and we couldn't ask for a better week than we had there in winning the world championship. So, we'd love to go back. We had a great time the last time we were there anyway."

And getting to the Brier would be another chance to make it to the Olympic trials qualifying tourney.

"The only way to get to the next one is to win this," Stoughton said.

Today's draws are at 8:30 a.m., and 12:15, 4 and 8:15 p.m.

BENDER'S PICKS

Jeff Stoughton, who is curling with two new players this year

Handicapping the field for the 2007, Safeway Championship today through Sunday at Credit Union Place in Dauphin

1. Jeff Stoughton, Charleswood (3-1) ... still the defending champ

2. Kerry Burtnyk, Assiniboine Memorial (5-1) ... main threat

3. Dave Boehmer, Petersfield (7-1) ... back on rails

4. Randy Dutiaume, Valour Road (10-1) ... Lunch Box hungry again

5. Dave Smith, Valour Road (15-1) ... dark horse, if healthy

6. Don Spriggs, Portage la Prairie (20-1) ... Silver Fox capable

7. Randy Neufeld, La Salle (25-1) ... hot cashspiel tour

8. Reid Carruthers, Beausejour (30-1) ... hoping to recapture glory

9. Graham Freeman, Virden (40-1) ... don't count out

10. Peter Nicholls, Elmwood (50-1) ... best of rest


Videos

Photos