Tougher than the rest

CON GRIWKOWSKY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:19 AM ET

WAINWRIGHT -- On the surface, this seems about the biggest coronation since Michael Ignatieff was declared leader of the Liberal Party.

Other than the occasional stumble, Kevin Martin has had the type of season worthy of his world championship title.

So, as the 2009 Alberta Boston Pizza Cup gets underway here this afternoon, the question is what's it going to take to deny Martin his fourth straight Alberta title?

And, is defending a title going to be enough motivation to overcome several teams with different types of hunger?

This is the toughest province to win. Ridiculously tough.

But with Martin already assured of a spot at Canadian Curling Trials in Edmonton later this year, the hunt for one of the two remaining bye spots could be a subplot this weekend.

Randy Ferbey won five straight provincial titles earlier this decade. He's ranked No. 4 on this year's CTRS list and the three-year list.

"As quick as it comes, sometimes it goes," said Ferbey, who did not qualify at the Grand Slam in Winnipeg the week after winning the Skins Game. "We've been playing well all year. Things click or don't click for a reason. We're not any worse than we were five years ago. In our hearts and in our heads, we're not."

On paper, Ferbey has a tougher road to the Trials, since Kevin Koe is ranked No. 3 on the three-year list.

If Martin wins here, that takes away chances from Ferbey and Koe to get more points at the Brier.

"Every team is going to convince themselves that whatever step they have to take, that's the way to go," said Ferbey. "Do we want to go directly to the Trials? Of course. We'd be stupid not to."

He's a bit of an old-school curler who still considers going to the Brier an ultimate achievement. Perhaps playing in his last provincial, there's an extra kick.

"It's top of the list," said Ferbey. "That's the greatest event in the world until I see otherwise.

"The Olympics is huge, obviously. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to be there, but right now the No. 1 priority is getting to the Brier, starting (today)."

Koe has been hot-and-cold this season, but has shown over the years the team has the potential to pull the crown off the king.

"We've had some really high moments and some real low ones this year," said the team's last rock Blake MacDonald. "We weren't quite on at times and have played as good as we have other times. For us, we're not really looking at (the Trials bye) right now."

Consistency has been elusive for a team that lost a Slam final to Glenn Howard, won at Perth, Scotland, a month ago but did not qualify at the Winnipeg Slam.

"The last couple of months we've been really working hard at some things and I'm looking forward to seeing how the hard work pays off," said MacDonald. "There's quite a few teams here that have beat Kevin this year. It is what it is. He's certainly not the only team here we have to be concerned about."

But the scramble for a pre-Trials spot is just as fascinating.

Ted Appelman has made a strong bid to grab one of the eight remaining spots. His three Alberta Tour wins helped him earn a bye here.

"We're trying not to worry about that right now, but it's definitely in the back of our minds," said Appelman.

"Our chemistry's been unreal. This usually doesn't happen with first-year teams, to be able to play good right away.

"Everybody's beatable here, Kevin will tell you that himself. Can they be beaten? Definitely."

Could it be a new face? Possibly.


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