Grumpy old curlers

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

If you want to see the best curlers in the country play with a giant, granite chip on their shoulders -- imagine Randy Ferbey, Kevin Martin or Glenn Howard really ticked off -- this year's Canadian Open is for you.

"There will only be one happy Canadian team there," Jeff Stoughton was saying yesterday. "The others will be there to prove a point."

The one happy Canadian team Stoughton refers to will be the one that wins the Olympic Trials in Edmonton, in December.

The rest, other than trying to prove it should be them going to Vancouver, will settle for slugging it out over the $100,000 purse up for grabs in the Open, the Grand Slam's annual Winnipeg stop, Jan. 20-24.

Ticket packages for the 18-team event go on sale today, and while the healthy home town crowds always make this a favourite stop for players, there promises to be a different atmosphere in the downtown rink this time.

The event takes place only a couple of weeks before the Vancouver Games, so one team will be awash in national pride.

If that team happens to be from Manitoba, they might have to reinforce the roof of the place to keep it from being blown off.

"It would be fantastic. Like a going-away party," a beaming Stoughton said. Then he looked at his arm. "I get goose bumps just thinking about it. It would be the thrill of a lifetime."

Stoughton got awfully close to that Olympic dream four years ago, losing the Trials final, by a hair, to Newfoundland's Brad Gushue.

So he knows, better than anyone, how much of a letdown the rest of that season, even the big-money Slam events, can be.

"It is going to be a hangover for some of the teams," he said. "You sort of have to switch gears after December."

While Stoughton, a 46-year-old former world champ, and fellow vet Kerry Burtnyk are taking one last shot at the Olympic rings, relative up-and-comers like Mike McEwen, the 29-year-old from Brandon, will likely get other chances.

McEwen used last year's Canadian Open -- he reached the semifinal in his first crack at it -- as affirmation that his team can play with the big boys.

"It kind of (dawned) upon us after that: hey, we're right there," McEwen said. "We're one break, maybe one shot, away from having a chance to be right in the finals. It was an eye-opener for us."

The clatter of the Olympics in the background is, too.

The way McEwen sees it, the pressure on everybody is cranked up a notch.

Which may not be a bad thing for a relative unknown.

"You look at the last two out of three winners of Canadian Olympic Trials, and they've been basically dark horses," McEwen said, referring to Gushue and Mike Harris. "We're not really much different than those teams. So why not?"

And if he walked onto the ice here in January as Canada's Olympic rep?

"It'd be unbelievable. Our heads would be spinning."

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca


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