PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. -- It has a new name, but the Canad Inns Prairie Classic is set to feature a star-studded field later this month as it has for the past several years.
The recently re-branded World Curling Tour event makes its annual stop in Portage la Prairie from Oct. 22-25, and sees teams coming to the Portage Curling Club from five different countries to vie for their share of a $58,000 purse.
Three-time defending champion and 2010 Brier runner-up Glenn Howard will make his return to the field after missing last year’s Prairie Classic.
“We’d love to get back,” said Howard.
“It’s one of the best ‘spiels on tour, and we’ve obviously had some luck there.
“There are so many positives about it, and generally, the ice has been really good over the years. All those positives made us want to come back.”
Howard is already the easy pick for tournament favourite, but his chances will be bolstered by the fact that Wayne Middaugh will join him for the event in place of regular third Richard Hart.
“Rich is taking a few off this year, so Wayne is going to fill in, and we’ll go from there,” said Howard.
Another former world champion in Jeff Stoughton will be back for another crack at the Classic title, while other notable Manitoba-based rinks such as those skipped by Daley Peters, Kevin Park, William Lyburn are others that will be involved.
The local contingent consists of just one team this year — Ryan Hyde’s rink featuring teammates Hartley Vanstone, Jared Munro, Ashley Linden and new member Barry Pugh, who came over from Don Spriggs’ disbanded team that was a mainstay of the event.
Pugh’s addition to the team is one that has Hyde excited for the season and the Classic.
“It should be good,” said Hyde. “Barry’s got lots of experience, so hopefully we can use that to our advantage and learn from him.”
Hyde said that it’s possible all five players may see game time during the Classic, which will be the team’s first action of the year against a tough field.
“It looks at least competitive, if not more competitive (than last year),” Hyde said when asked about this year’s roster of teams. It appears that Hyde has drawn Howard for his first game of the event, a difficult opponent even for a team at the top of its game, much less one throwing its first rocks of the season.
“Oddsmakers won’t have us favoured to win that one,” laughed Hyde. “But it’ll be fun, you don’t get to play teams like that very often, and it’s one of the reasons why we love this ‘spiel.”
However, those on Hyde’s rink won’t be the only involved that are familiar to the region. Oakville’s Dean Moxham, another castoff from the Spriggs rink, has joined up with Winnipeg skip Dean Dunstone, and will throw second stones for that team when the event gets underway.
Also in the field is former Portage resident and PCC icemaker Farrol Asham, who is now based in Thompson and is the third on skip Travis Graham’s team.
“It’s a great way to start the year. When we heard we got into the ‘spiel, we were pretty excited,” said Asham. “I think we have a good team. Hopefully, we can come down, win a few games and qualify.
“Anytime you get to come to Portage, it’s awesome, especially for me with all my family and friends there.
“I’m sure the Curling Club Senate will be there sitting in the front row criticizing every shot we make,” he laughed.
Though it will be its first bonspiel, Team Graham is likely to get its curling season started next week with ice going in up in Thompson a little earlier.
2009 champion Kerry Burtnyk will not be in the field this year, but runner-up Jason Gunnlaugson, whose team made a highly-publicized move to Russia in the offseason, will be back as one of the international representatives.
Also coming from overseas are Yusuke Morozumi’s Japanese team, and Xiaoming Xu’s rink from China. Two American squads will also bolster the field.