Men ready to rock in Alberta

ADRIANN KENNEDY, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 11:15 AM ET

TORONTO -- Canada's elite curlers are breaking out their brooms in preparation for the rapidly approaching 2010-11 Season of Champions. Medicine Hat, Alta., will play host to the country's top rinks at the Canada Cup of Curling from Dec. 1-5.

The men's draw features the biggest names and fiercest rivalries in the sport. The past seven Canada Cup men's titles have been divided between three champions, all of whom will be in the hunt next week.

Headlining this year's field is three-time defending champion Kevin Martin. Martin is joined by lead Ben Hebert, second Marc Kennedy and third John Morris -- the same rink that struck gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and the first team in Olympic curling history to finish the Games with an undefeated record.

Martin and company have been rock stars since uniting in 2006. The team won back-to-back Briers in 2008 and 2009 before missing last year's event to rest after Vancouver. Martin took the titles at both the Canadian Open in January and the season-ending Grey Power Players' Championship in April, and won the West Coast Curling Classic to start this season, hoping to keep the golden glow of 2010 alive.

But there will be no shortage of competition for the powerhouse Alberta team, with plenty of skips looking to topple the defending champs and make a statement to start the season.

During Martin's post-Olympic break, another Alberta rink stepped into the spotlight.

Kevin Koe and his team are coming off a huge season, after winning the 2010 Brier and Capital One World Men's Championship in Italy. And Koe's no stranger to this stage -- having won the Canada Cup in 2008 and proving he can compete with the biggest names in the game.

The man Koe took down in last year's Brier final will also be in the hunt this season. Glenn Howard has never won the Canada Cup, but he's hardly short on hardware. The skip has led his Ontario rink to three Brier titles, but will be without his regular third Richard Hart in Medicine Hat. Hart's substitute is no slouch, though -- he will be replaced with two-time Brier champ Wayne Middaugh.

Two Manitoba rinks -- the stalwart Stoughton rink, and the upstart Mike McEwen-led foursome -- will be worth watching this year. The two faced off at the World Cup of Curling in Windsor at the beginning of the month, with McEwen emerging the victor.

Jeff Stoughton skipped his team to a record eighth Manitoba Provincial Championship title last season, but he has not played in the final of a major tournament since the 2009 Brier.

Stoughton parted ways with Rob Fowler and Kevin Park last April when both left to skip their own teams, however, he's since been reunited with long-time third John Mead, and recruited 2010 Manitoba Curling Tour champion skip Reid Carruthers to throw second stone. Stoughton demonstrated in Windsor that his reinvented team can challenge, knocking out Martin's rink in the quarterfinals.

McEwen's foursome is considered by many to be an up-and-coming rink. The win at the World Cup of Curling was their first Grand Slam title, and they have already placed first in three events this year. McEwen finished 2009-2010 ranked seventh in the country, but has catapulted to the top of the Canadian Team Rankings with his early success this season.

The star power in Medicine Hat will be major, but the biggest story of the weekend -- perhaps even the season -- will be who is absent.

One of the most successful foursomes in history, Randy Ferbey's Alberta rink, disbanded last season after 11 years, four Briers, three world championships and three Canada Cups. Ferbey has since teamed up with 2006 Olympic champ Brad Gushue; he is now the team's skip, throwing third stone as he did with the Ferbey Four. The two stars have said they are excited to work together and while the situation will have complications -- for instance, Ferbey cannot play with the team at the Brier, since he has not relocated to Newfoundland -- Gushue's young talent has benefited from veteran leadership before, winning in Turin with Russ Howard on their side.

The Canada Cup will be filled with big names and big shots, and should be a good indicator of who to watch in 2011. The next Season of Champions event is the Continental Cup in January, and then the men's season will begin to build to the big stages -- the 82nd edition of the Tim Horton's Brier in March and the Ford Men's World Championship from Regina in April.


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