Geoff Lang is not the first top-seeded team that has been forced to get to the provincials through the Christmas route.
But this year's Junior Christmas Bonspiel may prove to be tougher than most.
West Kildonan's eighth-seeded Steen Sigurdson upset Lang's Pembina foursome, the No. 1 seed, at the Target Junior Men's city zone playdowns and Lang will be down to his last chance when the annual Christmas spiel starts at various local curling clubs on Dec. 27. The last two provincial berths will be up for grabs next week.
"A bunch of things happened at the zones and I guess we weren't really ready for it," said Lang, who had said he expected to win the Manitoba title before the zones started. "And we couldn't really adapt to the ice. It was tricky at the Wildewood."
But Lang was not the only squad to suffer an upset in the zones. Pembina's Kyle Peters, the No. 2 seed, is also still seeking a spot. So are West Kildonan's Taylor McIntyre (No. 5), Deer Lodge's Connor Njegovan (No. 6) and some worthy rural squads.
"We've got to beat them in the provincials anyway, we'll just have to beat them twice," said Lang, supported by third Alex Forrest, second Kody Janzen and Trevor Grenkow. "Someone's got to lose and hopefully it's not us."
The last time Lang missed the provincials was back in 2003 when he played second for Adam Norget who has since graduated.
"Hopefully, that doesn't happen again this year," said Lang, 19. "Hopefully, this will be a very Merry Christmas."
After a last-minute rush, the MCA received a total of 44 entries into the junior men's section of the spiel, two down from last year's total.
Lang has company on the junior women's side where Assiniboine Memorial's Michelle Montford, the No. 2 seed for the junior women's city zone playdowns, Pembina's Lisa DeRiviere (No. 3), Victoria's Nikki Hawrylyshen (No. 4) and some good country squads are still seeking the last two provincial spots available next week.
A total of 23 junior women's teams entered the spiel, which is three down from last Christmas.
The Youth entries have increased to 35 from 34.
The 2008 Target Junior Men's provincial playdowns will be played at the West Kildonan Curling Club, Jan. 3-7. The junior women's provincials will be played in Stonewall the same week.
CUP-BOUND: Although Jeff Stoughton failed to clinch a spot through the Canada Cup qualifying spiel in Ottawa last weekend, the reigning Manitoba champ has been invited back because his foursome is so high on the Canadian Team Ranking System points standings. Although Manitoba's Jennifer Jones had to pass on the qualifying spiel because she was competing at the Continental Cup, she will return to the Canada Cup as the defending women's champ.
WITT MISSED: Note to CBC's Don Wittman, the best CFL, curling, Olympic and hockey broadcaster we know: get better quick. You are missed and our prayers are with you and your family.
IRON ROCK: I honestly cannot recall the last time I hogged a rock in league play and the front end will try to tell you it is because of their furious brushing. But I faced a true challenge last weekend. Tony Loran, icemaker at the Granite Curling Club, invited me to try throwing a 95-pound curling rock made of iron discovered in the Mother Club's boiler room. And I barely got it over the near hogline.
If you think you can do better, get down to the Granite and give it a go for just $5 a throw. It started yesterday and will continue each day until Friday, 11 a.m.-1:45 p.m. or 4-5:45 p.m. All proceeds will go to the Christmas Cheer Board through the Sun's Empty Stocking Fund. And throw H-A-A-RD!
Finally, have a Merry Curling Christmas.