Olympic, world champions at provincials

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:41 AM ET

EDMONTON - Something big is about to happen in Smallville.

High River, the town used as a set for Smallville in the movie Superman III, is in for a big week.

And, in a way, it's the perfect place for it to happen.

It was, after all, former High River resident W.O. Mitchell who authored the book The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon.

This is The Black Bonspiel of Kevin Martin and Kevin Koe.

It's the first time in history such a bonspiel -- a.k.a. the Boston Pizza Cup -- has ever happened. And it's happening in a 580-seat rink in High River.

Never before has an Olympic gold medal winner and a world champion been forced to fight it out at a provincial championship to produce a team to proceed to the Brier.

And it's all going to go down, beginning Wednesday, in a town way south of Alberta's Mason-Dixon line (which runs through a bar in Red Deer).

"High River just feels so fortunate to be playing host to this one," said co-chair Janis Stark of the happening where Olympic gold medal winner Martin and Brier and world champion Koe, both out of the same Saville Centre club in Edmonton, headline the latest version of the event.

Not only has it never happened before, Martin figures it will never happen again.

This situation, he believes, will be the final straw from the old curling broom.

"If you look down the road a little bit, I don't think there is any question the defending Brier champion will be returning the following year as Team Canada, as has been the case in the Scotties for years.

"It hasn't changed yet. But they've pretty much told us it's going to change. The defending champion will be back before too long. And I think, considering the Olympic team had to miss the Brier the previous year competing in the Olympics, that team should be in as well. In the year after the Olympics, you just make a spot for them, too. It's pretty easy.

"I like the concept of the bottom two at the Brier spending a year away from the Brier. I think it would make them work harder to develop curling."

In the meantime, it's Olympic champ versus world champion to become provincial champion.

"I'm sure if you asked the Canadian Curling Association, they'd rather see this matchup at the Brier in London than in High River," said Martin.

"This makes a pretty good statement for this to change by the next Olympics."

If it were in place now, neither Martin or Koe would be headed to High River. And instead of the focus being on Martin-Koe, it would be on Randy Ferbey.

The sentimental favourite headed to River city is six-time Brier champion Ferbey and his four-time Brier champion last rock thrower Dave Nedohin -- four and three-time world champions respectively -- back together with a new front end just for the fun of it.

And there's also Don Walchuk, Martin's old Olympic silver medal winning third from Salt Lake 2002, a three-time Brier-winner and world champion himself.

And so you put this in a 580- seat rink in a town 58 kilometres south of Calgary?

"I don't have any problem with that," said Martin, who played in the TSN Skins game at a casino with about eight times the capacity a couple of weeks ago.

"It's really good to go to small places. The whole town really gets into it. It'll be a great environment.

"There's no negative there. It'll be a full building," he said of the arena, which has been sold out for weeks.

"It's going to be a very interesting week. It should be a lot of fun."

At least it's out of curling clubs finally.

And there's been a special flavour in taking this show to places like Hinton, Innisfail, Wainwright, Spruce Grove and Olds in recent years. But this one? Down south?

The six top-seeded teams are all from Edmonton!

Koe, a native of the Northwest Territories, moved from Grande Prairie to Calgary recently, and with John Morris and Ben Hebert from Martin's gold medal team residents of Cowtown as well, there is a rooting interest there, if not a rooting-tooting interest.

The Black Bonspiel of Willie MacCrimmon was nothing compared to this one,

I tell ya, W.O. Mitchell should be in his old hometown to write this one.

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TERRY JONES PICKS

1. Kevin Martin, Olympic gold medal winner (2-1)

2. Kevin Koe, Brier and world champion (3-1)

3. Randy Ferbey, once more for old times (5-1)

4. Tom Appelman, Edmonton team-in-waiting (8-1)

5. Don Walchuk, no quit in this former champ (9-1)

6. Rob Schlender, another Edmonton contender (10-1)

7. Steve Petryk, top southern seed (15-1)

8. Terry Meek, Cheryl Bernard's husband (20-1)

9. G. Kennedy, Marc's (St. Albert) brother (25-1)

10. Brock Virtue, 2007 world junior champ (30-1)

11. Geoff Walker, Grande Prairie long shot (50-1)

12. Graham Powell, Sexsmith longer shot (99-1)


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