Stage set for Turin

So much for a friendly little exhibition.

Team Canada's Shannon Kleibrink squared off with Team USA's Cassie Johnson in a pre-Olympic women's curling tuneup here yesterday, and the result, not to mention some of the post-game talk, had all the cordiality of a hockey game between the two rival nations.

Start with the score, an 11-4 spanking administered by the Canucks.

"We talked about it: are we going to use this as an experience to get to know them, or are we going out there to win?" Team Canada lead Christine Keshen would say later. "We went out there to win that game."

Mission accomplished, and a not-so-subtle message delivered along with it: see you in Turin, Italy -- and you'd better bring your A-game.

"They missed a lot of basic shots," a surprisingly candid Keshen said. "Their lead couldn't put up a guard, their third wrecked on everything.

"I don't think we brought our A-game. This was our A-minus game. They'll have to bring their A-game and we'll have to bring our B-game for them to beat us."

Hey, who filled the water bottles with truth serum?

I mean, sure, everything Keshen said was true. The Americans couldn't draw through a barn door on this day. And of course the Canucks should win this matchup nine times out of 10.

But nobody actually says it, at least not within earshot of a media type.

Informed of the Canadian's comments, Keshen's counterpart, U.S. lead Maureen Brunt, offered this comeback.

"We definitely didn't bring our A- or B-game today," Brunt began. "More in the range of C or D. As long as we play our best, we have a shot. If they play their best, too, we'll do pretty well."

Sets the stage quite nicely for the Winter Games, don't you think?

Adds a little spice, too, to a game that normally carries about as much conflict as a sewing circle.

Which is kind of what the two teams took part in right after Johnson shook hands following the ninth end: an impromptu get-to-know-you session while the men's semifinals for the Canadian Open continued beside them.

This was before any of the verbal volleys, you understand.

"We're Canadians -- we're friendly," Keshen explained.

Sure, mop the ice with them, then ask how things are back home.

Actually, this was as much a case of the Yanks being off the broom as the Canucks being on it.

A slight case of stage fright, perhaps?

"It's our first time with so many fans in the stands," Jamie Johnson, the U.S. skip's sister and third, said. "It was hot out there. And when the men's teams made a great shot, there'd be all that clapping, and we never really hear that."

Take the fifth end, when Cassie Johnson was attempting a draw while staring at four Canadian counters, only to slide her last rock clear through the house.

"We know what we need to work on," Cassie said. "We know we're not 100% prepared, yet. But we have a few more weeks to work on it."

So much for the idea the American system of choosing its Olympic team might be better than ours.

The U.S. decided to send its national champion from last year, giving the team 11 months to prepare.

Kleibrink and Canadian men's rep Brad Gushue found out they're Turin-bound at the Olympic Trials just a month ago.

Sure, they've been hurried, with tons of media demands, but they're not complaining.

"We were preparing for (the Trials) like it was the Olympics," Kleibrink said. "You have from September to December to prepare."

Keshen says a little more time would have been nice, but she likes what she sees from her team right now.

"It keeps us on our toes," she said. "We are tuned up now. I like being tuned up now."

And then one final warning to the States.

"We're going to bring our A-game for the Olympics."