WINNIPEG - David Hamblin has no illusions about enjoying an easy ride to a repeat.
Although he’s the defending grand aggregate champion of the MCA men’s bonspiel, Hamblin and his Morris rink realize the pitfalls and potholes that could lie ahead as they attempt to earn one of the six Safeway Championship berths that are available when the 123rd annual event officially gets underway on Thursday.
“It’s pretty much the same mindset. We wish we didn’t have to go that route but we’re going to give it our shot,” said Hamblin, who is supported by third Ross Derksen, second Ryan Thomson and lead Mark Georges and plays out of the Morris Curling Club. “It’s always good to know you’ve done it before, but there are always things that make this bonspiel one of the toughest to win. We have to take it a game at a time and hope that we can get through it.
“There are a lot of teams going for those six spots and we hope we can be one of them.”
Hamblin’s season hasn’t gone quite as well as he’d hoped, including a heartbreaking extra-end defeat to Dean North of Carman in the Zone 1 championship final.
“We had a bad pick on my last rock of the game,” said Hamblin. “Otherwise, we had her won. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Hamblin, a former world junior champion, also made the playoffs in the Southern Berth bonspiel, but didn’t punch his ticket there either.
“We’ve had an up-and-down year,” said Hamblin. “We’ve played better at times this year than last year, though some of the results haven’t shown it. We felt we played well enough to win our zone and things didn’t work out for us.
“Hopefully, we can put it together and win this weekend to keep the season going a little longer. That would go a long ways toward making the season a bit more of a success.”
Other notable rinks trying to earn their spot in the Safeway Championship include David Kraichy of Pembina (who lost 6-5 in the MCA bonspiel final in 2010), Brendan Taylor of West Kildonan and veteran Randy Neufeld of La Salle.
One of the teams to keep an eye on at the event is the foursome of Arnold Asham, Garry Vandenberghe and the father-son duo of Darryl and Jason Gunnlaugson.
Jason Gunnlaugson’s rink captured the Russian version of the Brier this season before they were fired.
Many thought Gunnlaugson would be among those teams trying to earn a berth through the event, but he’s opted to enter the event with this team instead.
Although overall numbers for the MCA men’s bonspiel are down from 410 to 384 this year, Curl Manitoba executive director Shane Ray believes there is still plenty of reason for optimism.
“It’s still the largest bonspiel around,” said Ray.
Ray said plans to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the event in style are already underway and he’s confident the event will start growing again in 2012.
The opening ceremonies to launch the event officially get underway at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Grain Exchange.