Who in the World Is... Ralph Stoeckli

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 7:49 AM ET

Second Markus Eggler of Switzerland says his favourite curling venue in the world is here.

"The Avonair Curling Club in Edmonton," he proclaims. "Icemaker: Ape Martin. Best curling club ice ever."

Actually the name is Ab Martin. He's Kevin Martin's dad.

For Switzerland skip Ralph Stoeckli, his favourite curling venue was recently blown up.

It was the Winnipeg Arena where, in 2003, for the Ford Worlds, they drew a record 153,571, the number Edmonton set as a target for the March 31-April 8 event which yesterday hit 162,852 in pre-sales.

"My favotrite venue was for the world championships in Winnipeg. I hope it's going to change to Edmonton Rexall Place.

"A moment I will never forget was playing the final game in Winnipeg 2003 against the Ferbey Four. We heard Edmonton will be as big or even bigger, and we can't wait to get there."

It's a common theme heading into this year's world championships.

"I guess it was around 600 spectators that we had in Wetzikon, close to Zurich, for this year's final game," said Stoeckli of the Swiss version of the Brier.

"It's always special to play in Canada.

"But it is also special for me that I split from my old team after the Olympic games and I will play the first time international with my new team."

OLYMPIC SKIP

Unlike half the skips headed here, Stoeckli is a name not unknown to Canadian curling fans.

And, unlike championship skips in a lot of countries, he's a curler with a high profile at home.

"I think I am pretty well known because I was the skip of the Olympic Team 2006.

"Our new team is getting known as well because of a great season this year," he said.

"We were one of the favourites this year - leading the Swiss League from the beginning."

Stoeckli has a chance to win this thing.

It's been a while since Switzerland has won a gold at the world championships. You have to go back to Markus Eggler in 1991.

But Patrick Hurlimann won gold for Switzerland at the Nagano Olympics, and Andreas Schwaller won bronze at Salt Lake 2002 with Stockli fifth at Torino 2006.

Stoeckli lost the gold medal game to the Ferbey Four in Winnipeg, and while he was fifth last year at Worlds as well, he thinks he has the team to do it.

"It is hard to say what it would do to curling. It is a great thing, especially for your team.

"If the Association would use a world championship to put some energy into it, I am sure we could get a lot of new members and make the game more known in the media as well."

Curling, in a way, is hereditary with 30-year-old Stoeckli. "My grandfather, my parents and my sisters used to play curling. So I was the only one left. What else you do? You start curling!"

Stoeckli's occupation is curling.

He's chief of education for Swiss Curling, a division of the Masters in Sports Administration & Technology Centre.

Eggler, 38, is the CEO of a printing company. Third Jan Hauser, 21, is a landscape architect. Lead Simon Strubin, 28, is a real estate agent.

GAME TOO POPULAR

Playing this week in the $100,000 spiel in Port Hawksbury, N.S., they'll head to Calgary to train for a few days before making the trip up to open the Ford Worlds next Saturday against Norway.

Stoeckli says the Swiss don't have many of the challenges of other European nations when it comes to curling.

If there is any problem, it's that the game is getting too popular and it's getting tough to find that training time.

"In Switzerland we actually have great curling facilities and ice conditions. I would say the best here in Europe. The only problem is to find training time after work because everybody wants to play curling after work," he said.

Apparently this is not a problem in Calgary.


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