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First up…the Canada Cup

For the first time, the Canada Cup will be the first event in the 2010-11 Season of Champions.  And once again, the line-ups mirror a Trials field.

That’s how good the competition will be, as the eighth edition of the Canada Cup is unveiled in a new time slot, December 1-5 and in a new city, Medicine Hat, Alberta.

On the men’s side, there is, of course, the Kevin Martin team, the defending Canada Cup champs (2009), consecutive two-time and undefeated Tim Hortons Brier winners (2008, 2009), but even more importantly, 2010 Olympic gold medallists.  Quite simply, the Edmonton foursome of Martin, John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert has enjoyed unparalleled success during the last three seasons.

Wayne Middaugh at the 2009 Canada Cup. (Photo: CCA/Michael Burns Photography)

Some familiar foes are lining up for another challenge, though, and could certainly dethrone the champs without causing a major surprise.

Like Edmonton’s Kevin Koe, who not only filled Martin’s shoes as Alberta’s latest Brier winner in 2010, but who also corralled global honours by winning the Capital One World Men’s last spring in Italy.  Koe, too, is a former Canada Cup champion in 2008.

Then there’s Coldwater, Ontario’s Glenn Howard, a three-time Brier and world champion, who lost only one game at last year’s Tim Hortons Brier in Halifax.  Unfortunately for him, it was the final game – to Koe.  For this year’s Canada Cup only, Howard’s regular third Richard Hart is unavailable and will be replaced by two-time Brier and world champion Wayne Middaugh.

2006 Olympic gold medallist Brad Gushue of St. John’s will also be in Medicine Hat.  He has a significant line-up change from last year.   Veteran Randy Ferbey, a six-time Brier, four-time world and three-time Canada Cup champion is now his regular third, as Mark Nichols moves to second and Ryan Fry drops to lead.

The only other men’s team already qualified is the young Mike McEwen rink from Winnipeg.

Two teams which had qualified for this year’s Cup no longer exist.   The highly successful Randy Ferbey foursome has disbanded, while Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton has two new members, third Jon Mead and second Reid Carruthers, who join long-time lead Steve Gould.  Eligibility rules state that Stoughton must now re-qualify, since there has been more than one player change from the previous season.

The balance of the 10-team men’s field will come from the winners of the Westcoast Curling Classic, October 8-11 in New Westminster, BC, the Challenge Casino Lac Leamy, October 20-24 in Gatineau, QC and the Cactus Pheasant Classic, October 28-31 in Brooks, AB, along with at least two of the highest-ranked teams on the CTRS.

On the women’s side, there’s defending Cup champion Shannon Kleibrink of Calgary, who is already a two-time winner of the event, in 2005 and 2009.

There’s four-time (2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010) Scotties Tournament of Hearts winner, 2008 Ford World Women’s champion and 2007 Canada Cup winner Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg, who has added two-time Canadian junior champion Kaitlyn Lawes at third, joining Jill Officer and Dawn Askin.

Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard, winner of the 2009 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings and silver medallist at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, will also be on the favourites.

They’ll be joined by Kelowna’s Kelly Scott, the 2006 and 2007 Canadian and 2007 world women’s champion; Kronau, Saskatchewan’s Amber Holland, the 2008 Player’s Champion, and Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton, the 2008 Cup champ, who has added veteran Sherry Anderson at third, leaving Sherri Singler at second, with former third Marliese Kasner now moving to lead.

Rounding out the qualifiers is Thunder Bay’s Krista McCarville. the third place finisher at both the 2009 Trials and 2010 Scotties Tournament of Hearts.   With the retirement of third Tara George, McCarville has a new line-up of Ashley Miharija at third, Kari MacLean at second and Sarah Lang at lead.

The balance of the 10-team women’s field will come from the winners of the following spiels:  Curlers Corner Autumn Gold Curling Classic, October 8-11 in Calgary; the Southwestern Ontario Women’s Charity Cashspiel, October 15-18 in London and the Manitoba Lotteries Women’s Curling Classic, October 22-25 in Winnipeg, plus, if necessary, other teams qualifying via the CTRS.

Since its debut in 2003 in Kamloops, British Columbia, the Canada Cup has been won by some of the greatest teams in Canadian curling.  Randy Ferbey and Kevin Martin are each three-time winners, while Colleen Jones took the 2004 renewal and Jennifer Jones was successful in 2007.  After six editions in Kamloops, the Canada Cup moved to Yorkton, Saskatchewan for a successful 2009 renewal.

There was no Canada Cup last season, but the 2010 Canada Cup now visits, for the first time, the city of Medicine Hat, site of the two most successful Continental Cups ever – in 2004, when an event attendance record of 42,317 was established, and in 2007, as both renewals were captured by Team North America over Team Europe in the unique, Ryder Cup-like format.

This time around in ‘The Hat’, there is no ‘us’ versus ‘them’, but rather a showcase of Canada’s best curlers, with plenty on the line – first place prizes of $25,000, as well as berths into the 2011 Canada Cup and 2012 Continental Cup.