Family affair for Spencer

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:34 AM ET

The chase to claim the vacated curling throne starts this morning.

Because Jennifer Jones is the reigning Canadian champ, her St. Vital squad gets a bye into the nationals this year. So, the Manitoba will crown a new champion come February and the battle to get to the provincials begins at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts Berth Bonspiel at the East St. Paul Curling Club this weekend.

One of the more intriguing pursuers is Fort Rouge's Barb Spencer, who lost last year's final to Jones. Spencer has reunited with her older sister, Darcy Robertson, this season and is currently the top Manitoba team on the WCT list with $7,700 (but the second Manitoban on the MCT list). Skipper own squad, Robertson lost the Manitoba final to Jones the year before.

"It was just like sliding back into old times," Spencer said yesterday. "It was hard to play against family and this is a lot easier on our parents."

Trouble is, Spencer will be unable to curl the entire weekend because she made some prior commitments that will not allow her to play Sunday -- if her squad makes it to the playoffs. Robertson will have to move up from third to skip after Spencer goes.

"My team's OK with it because we weren't even going to go into the berth bonspiel at first," Spencer said of their last-minute entry.

Others in the hunt include the Fort Rouge's Janet Harvey, who won the provincial championship the last time Jones had Team Canada status, Brandon's Maureen Bonar, Fort Rouge's Karen Porritt and La Salle's Calleen Neufeld.

BRANDON BRIER?: Brandon's Reid Lumbard will be honoured as the Manitoba Blue Cross Performer of the Month at tonight's WHL game between the Wheat Kings and Calgary Hitmen at the Keystone Centre. Lumbard was just inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and welcomed to the prestigious Governor General's Curling Club in Ottawa.

"It is special to be honoured at the Keystone Centre," Lumbard said. "I've got a soft spot in my heart for that place. We've had lots of fun in that building."

Lumbard was one of the key organizers for such successful events as the 1993 Scott Tournament of Hearts, 1995 Worlds and 1997 Canadian Curling Trials there.

Now that the Keystone is undergoing a $5 million renovation for the Memorial Cup, Lumbard is pushing to host a Brier by 2011.

TV FIX: You can get your curling TV fix this weekend when CBC broadcasts three playoff games at the Grand Slam's $100,000 Masters of Curling event in Waterloo, Ont. CBC will air games at 2 and 6 p.m. tomorrow and the final at noon Sunday.

Manitoba's Kerry Burtnyk, Jeff Stoughton, Mike McEwen and Reid Carruthers are all competing there.

$1M BUTTON: The final for the Capital One Million Dollar Button contest will be held during the Grand Slam's Canadian Open here at the MTS Centre, Jan. 21-25. To win $1 M, a finalist must cover the hole in the centre of a regulation curling sheet. Touching just part of the button will earn the finalist $100,000, with other money prizes for poorer shots.

To enter, register online at www.capitalone.ca/button. No purchase is necessary.

ELSEWHERE: Reigning world champion Jennifer Jones is the only Manitoban team competing at a women's Grand Slam in Abbotsford, B.C. this weekend ... The MCT's Gimli Pharmasave Classic also hits the ice this weekend ... The Deer Lodge Curling Club is hosting its annual junior bonspiel for those aged 16 and under.


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