Rinks start down Trail

TODD SAELHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

The globe's top curlers are ringing in the new season with visions of gold at the sporting world's five-ring circus.

Yes, even though the Vancouver Games are still 17 months away, Olympic dreams are front and centre heading into the 2008 Trail Appliances Curling Classic this coming weekend at the Calgary Curling Club.

With that, event co-chairs Amy Nixon and Bronwen Webster are busy thinking of ways to abuse their power to get the victory and pocket big points in their quest to represent Canada at the 2010 Olympic Games.

"We had a good laugh about that," said Webster, only half-joking as the second for Airdrie's Shannon Kleibrink, a heavy favourite to capture the World Curling Tour event title this weekend.

"No, seriously, there'd be nothing more special than to represent the country and wear the Maple Leaf on your back."

The $55,000 event is the first of five this season in the Capital One Grand Slam of Curling, which offer the most qualifying points for teams in their quest to represent Canada at the 2010 Olympic Games. The spiel, which opens Friday, features rinks from Russia, Japan and China.

"We'll have most of the top-32 women's teams from the tour here, so it'll be a really good showcase of the world's best," Webster said.

"We really are fortunate to have a lot of big names in women's curling on the committee for the spiel."

But with that, the ante is upped in the bid to secure points for the Canadian Team Ranking System, a key factor in determining the field for the 2010 Olympic Trials.

Because of the calibre of names attending the Trail Appliances Curling Classic -- such as Kleibrink and defending champion Jennifer Jones -- the triumphant team this weekend will walk away with a whopping 36 points.

And Kleibrink, her third Nixon, Webster and lead Chelsey Bell are confident those points are theirs to win.

"We're definitely looking for a chance to win that last one again," said Webster, who wants to avenge the final loss to Jones in the 2007 Trial Appliances Curling Classic. "We just came up short last year."

But this year, the Kleibrink rink is right on the button, having gone 2-for-2 in spiel appearances.

The team already has 27 games under its belt, including a full slate two weekends ago, when they won the WCT stop in Vernon, B.C. The victory from the Twin Anchors Houseboat Cashspiel gave Kleibrink and Co. $10,000 and -- more importantly -- 31 points to put towards Olympic qualification.

The Airdrie rink also won the CUETS Schmirler Charity Classic three weeks back in Regina, scoring 35 for the points race.

"Points are the big concern," Webster said. "The money's nice, but it's really about the points. It's a bit of a points war out there."

The hot start already has Kleibrink on top of the 2008-09 CTRS standings with 66.150 points.

Calgary's Heather Rankin, another competitor this weekend, sits second with 30.200.

"They're tearing it up so far," said the rink's coach Brent Syme. "They're pretty focused. They definitely came in with some goals, and they got going early -- working on the Calgary Curling Club ice -- so they have a little bit of an advantage."

EXTRA ENDS

The Alberta Men's Tour swung through Calgary over the weekend, and Lloyd Hill's Good Earth Cafes foursome made the most of the stop. Hill doubled up Dan Petryk 6-3 in Sunday's finale of the World Financial Group Alberta Men's Tour Event to pocket $4,000 and earn 20 points for Alberta Curling Federation qualifying. Hill, who beat Canadian mixed champion Dean Ross in Sunday's semifinal, teamed with third Steve Thomas, second Wallace Hollingshead and lead Ed Chow to claim the tour stop title at Garrison Curling Club. In the other semifinal, Petryk upended Steve Mackay 7-3. As runner-up, Petryk cashed a $2,000 paycheque, while the semifinal losers took home $1,200 per team. In Saturday's qualifying round, from which losers received $600, Hill topped Rob Johnson 5-3, Petryk beat Shane Pacholock 5-2, Ross doubled up Don Delair 6-3 and Steve Mackay edged Brent Bawel 4-3 in an extra end. The event was the second of the 2008-09 Alberta Men's Tour schedule.

LAST ROCK

Upcoming spiels include the North Hill Juvenile at North Hill Curling Club. It runs Friday through Sunday ... At the Lethbridge Curling Club, the Michael Izsak Junior Cash Spiel opens Friday.


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