Tankard countdown begins

PAUL SVOBODA, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 7:16 PM ET

Kevin Hill only curls once a year but even he can't wait for the 2010 Ontario men’s curling championships at the Strathcona Paper Centre in Napanee.

The Tankard takes place Feb. 1-7 at the six-year-old, twin-pad facility which will undergo a massive facelift for the event, said Hill, the director of parks and recreation for Greater Napanee.

“We’re turning the Goodyear Rink from a hockey rink into four sheets of curling ice,” said Hill. “It’s going to be pretty neat.”

What’s also pretty neat, said Hill, is the all-star cast of curlers that have already qualified for the provincial championship, including four-time Ontario title-holder and former world champ Glenn Howard of Coldwater.

“It’s incredibly huge to have someone that recognizable in the world of curling coming to our community,” said Hill, a native of Belleville. “Curling is highly recognized in our country and to be able to see this quality of curling here, live — well, people should make every effort to come out and watch.”

While Howard’s rink headlines the roster, Tankard organizers got more good news earlier this week when four other top-notch rinks qualified for the event. Among them, 2009 Tankard runner-up Peter Corner of Brampton, the 2003 Brier and world champion. His rink mates include Graeme McCarrel, 1998 Brier and world champion; Ian Tetley, three-time world champion; and Brad Savage, the 1991 Ontario junior champion.

Also advancing to Napanee are rinks skipped by Whitby’s Rob Lobel, making his third straight trip to The Tankard; Joe Frans of Thornhill, the 2002 and ‘05 Tankard winner; and Tara’s Mark Bice, a recent runner-up at the Canadian mixed championships.

Four more teams qualify this weekend at regional playdowns across Ontario, including Saturday and Sunday at the Quinte Curling Club. Two more teams can gain entry via challenge rounds Jan. 18.

Hill said the Strathcona Paper Centre, which played host to the Canadian U18 women’s hockey championships last year, is more than capable of meeting the needs of a provincial curling championship.

“There will be a team of experts coming in and with our technology when we built the facility, we can raise and lower the temperature as required by the experts,” said Hill. “There will be challenges along the way, but I think it’ll be very easy to control.”

Hill said the head icemaker will be Darren Sinclair, assigned from Western Ontario to the Napanee event by the Ontario Curling Association.

While curling will take place on the Goodyear sheet, “it’s business as usual,” said Hill, for the Cintas Rink. Off-ice hospitality will be handled by the Centre’s spacious banquet room which will be renamed “The Ice Hut” for the duration of the tournament.

Hill said fans can visit the Ice Hut for beverages and refreshments and to rub elbows with some of the country’s finest curlers.

Hill said the Goodyear Rink boasts 1,008 permanent seats while temporary “end zone bleachers” will be trucked in to bump up the seating to more than 1,300 for The Tankard — plus standing room.

Already known for hosting major fastball championships, the town of Napanee is bent on making a name for itself as the perfect location for other bigtime sporting events. And, while the facility is key, Hill said volunteers and community support is also essential.

“We have a great group of volunteers, more than 200,” said Hill. “These types of events build our base of volunteers and community and corporate support for future events. I can say from a recreation standpoint, we’re extremely thrilled and looking forward to hosting other events like this in the future.”

Hopefully, they’ll all be as much fun to put on as the lead-up to The Tankard has been, said Hill.

“What is great about this event is that the OCA has been so relaxed to deal with and so accommodating,” said Hill. “For an operations guy, who’ll be worried about running a good event, they’ve made it so easy.”

Hill said ticket sales are progressing at a satisfactory rate and he hopes “to lure new fans” to one of Canada’s major curling events.

“With the competition that’s slated to be here, I think everyone in the area will want to come out and watch,” he said. “I know I’m looking forward to the fun spiel that will kick off the event too. That’ll be my one time this year that I curl.”

Tankard ticket information is available by calling 613-354-4423.

NOTES ... Eight TANKARD hopefuls will compete for two spots at the provincial finals at the REGION 1 PLAYDOWNS this weekend at the QUINTE CURLING CLUB. The preliminary round schedule, with all matches Saturday at 9 a.m., is as follows: BRIAN LEWIS, Ottawa vs. DAMIEN VILLARD, Rideau; BRYAN COCHRANE, Rideau vs. GREG BALSDON, Loonie (Chaffey’s Lock); STEVE ALLEN, Arnprior vs. MAT CAMM, Navan; and CHRISTOPHER CIASNOCHA, Trenton vs. J.P. LACHANCE, Rideau. Matches continue Saturday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., leading to Sunday finals: B at 9 a.m.; A at 2 p.m.


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