CALGARY - In what could be called one spectacular Alberta 12-pack, a dozen of the province’s top men’s curling rinks are just a little more than a week away from getting things started at the 2012 Alberta Boston Pizza Cup in Camrose.
And there’s little doubt this year’s provincial championship, which runs Feb. 8-12 and coincides with the host city’s 100 Years of Curling celebration, is the creme de la creme of Alberta’s competitive circuit.
The list of leading teams at this season’s showdown — three out of the south, three from Alberta’s north and two out of the Peace region — will join four pre-qualified rinks as all 12 lineups converge on Rose City’s Edgeworth Centre in a bid to be the next rink to represent Wild Rose Country at the Brier.
For JD Lind, third for the Calgary-based Brock Virtue rink, and Dean Ross, a local skip who led his team to the 2012 provincials via an A Event victory at the southern playdowns at Inglewood Curling Club earlier this month, competing for a much-coveted provincial crown is one of the big reasons they play.
“Right now, it’s all about getting prepared for the provincials,” said Lind, who had just returned with skip Virtue, second Dominic Daemen and lead Matthew Ng from the Asham World Curling Tour’s $100,000 Pomeroy Inn & Suites National in Dawson Creek, B.C, where Virtue & Co. had a 2-3 showing.
However, Lind said the Calgary Curling Club rink improved as the ‘spiel wore on, including a late 5-3 roundrobin defeat to former world champion Kevin Koe, another skip who’ll be going for it all at this year’s provincial finals.
Team Virtue earned a ticket to Camrose thanks to its solid showing in Alberta Curling Federation play.
“For our rink, it was good to get out and play again in Dawson Creek because we had taken some time off for the Christmas season,” Lind said. “This was the first time we had been back in game-playing situations for quite a while.”
Likewise this week for Virtue, Lind & Co., there’ll be little in the way of real game action from now until the time the first stone is thrown in Camrose.
To a degree, the onus to be fully prepared for the province’s biggest curling event is on each team that competes, Lind explained.
“We’ll be getting in as much practise as we can between now and next week,” he said. “We’re definitely getting excited about the provincials. We’re still a young team and we feel that we’re a team that is still improving. In last year’s provincials, we qualified but lost to Kevin Koe in the 3/4 (playoff) game.
“I’d say our goal this year is to qualify again and, hopefully, go further. The way I look at it, every team there is trying to get to the final because once you’re in a final, anything can happen.”
It’s safe to suggest Ross would agree with Lind’s analogy when it comes to being a contender in the 12-rink event.
Skip of Alberta’s winning team at the 2008 Canadian Mixed Curling Championship, Ross will be making his fourth appearance at the provicial men’s championship.
While he’s yet to claim the title in Alberta’s ultra-competitive men’s circuit, Ross takes solace in knowing each year offers another shot at winning it all, which is all he, third Don DeLair, second Chris Blackwell and lead Stephen Jensen can ask for.
“We feel like we’re quite well prepared heading into provincials,” said Ross, who plays out of Calgary’s North Hill Curling Club. “We’ve been in seven (WCT) events this season. It’s been a relatively busy year with ’spiels every other weekend and sometimes on back-to-back weekends.
“And we feel as though were getting closer,” he said of reaching the top echelon in Alberta competition.
“Provincials can be very physically gruelling on front-ends and mentally gruelling on every player, so that’s one of the things we have to prepare for.
“I think if you ask any coach, they’d tell you that staying positive is important. We’ll stay positive and, hopefully, get ourselves into Saturday. You want to still be playing Saturday because by then the field is down to half the size.”
Joining Ross, Virtue and Koe at the Boston Pizza Cup are Kevin Martin (Edmonton, defending champion), Jamie King (Edmonton, Alberta Tour qualifier), Kurt Balderston (Peace, A), Greg Hill (Peace, B), Rob Schlender (North, A), Tom Appelman (North, B), Kevin Park (North, C), Matthew Blandford (South, B), and Lloyd Hill (South, C).
This year’s Tim Hortons Brier takes place in Saskatoon at the Credit Union Centre from March 3-11.
Webster oh so close
While last weekend’s women’s provincials may have disappointing from a Calgary perspective, as past Olympians Cheryl Bernard and Shannon Kleibrink fell a bit short in their bids to reach this year’s nationals, it also saw the impressive emergence of Crystal Webster and her young squad.
Webster’s showing at Leduc’s Alberta Scotties was the best among southern teams as she and third Erin Carmody, second Geri-Lynn Ramsay and lead Sam Preston battled their way to the semifinal, before losing a heartbreaking 6-5 extra end game to eventual champion Heather Nedohin of Edmonton.
Webster’s road to the final three saw her defeat Kleibrink as well the highly-touted Renee Sonnenberg rink of Grande Prairie and Edmonton’s Val Sweeting in the late going.
Scotties field in place
The star-studded field is now in place for the 2012 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, Canada’s national women’s championship, which goes in Red Deer, Feb. 18-26.
This year’s field at the nationals will see the return of some of the nation’s top female rinks, including Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones and Kelly Scott of B.C.
Marie-France Larouche will wear Quebec’s colours, while the Kim Dolan rink will represent P.E.I.
Tracy Horgan will lead Team Ontario, Andrea Kelly skips New Brunswick, Heather Strong will guide her Newfoundland & Labrador lineup, Kerry Galusha leads N.W.T. and Nova Scotia will be anchored by skip Heather Smith-Dacey.
Heather Nedohin wears Alberta colours and in one of the bigger surprises in provincial Scotties play, and veteran Michelle Englot returns to the national scene, thanks to a 9-7 win in the championship final over Stefanie Lawton at the Saskatchewan Scotties. Defending Scotties champion is Amber Holland of Saskatchewan.