The two finals that will be played today at the Capital One Canada Cup of Curling at the Cranbrook RecPlex are really heads and tails of the same coin.
On one hand, you have Edmonton’s Kevin Martin and Coldwater’s Glenn Howard facing each other at 1:30 p.m. on the men’s side – hardly surprising to anyone around a curling club. It might seem like the Ol’ Bear and Canada’s most famous beer store manger have faced each other a hundred times in major championship and cashspiel finals – and that might not be far from the truth.
But on the women’s side of the draw, while past Canadian and world champ Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg did not surprise anyone by curling her way to Sunday’s 9 a.m. tilt, it was fellow Manitoban Chelsea Carey’s crew out of Morden that quickly became the story of the week in this mountain city.
Before anyone realized it, Carey had floated to the top of the standings and really assured her team weekend curling fairly quickly.
Carey’s rink is unquestionably the up-and-coming squad in the tough Keystone Province. They were at last year’s Cup in Medicine Hat and played brilliantly at the Manitoba Scotties only to lose to Cathy Overton-Clapham in the final.
Now faced with another Manitoba juggernaut in Jones – who has had the young skip’s number for the most part in past competition – did Carey learn any lessons from that experience?
“I don’t think we would have done anything differently. We curled pretty well, but Cathy just made everything. She was just on a mission, nobody was going to beat her,” said the confident 27-year-old skipper after her Saturday practice session.
“And Jennifer gets like that too and if she curls that way, then we’re probably won’t win.
“But I could just as easily get on a mission too and make everything, so it’s just one of those things.”
Carey maintains, had she the choice, she would have preferred to curl into the finals from the semis, but she was never going to turn down the free pass.
“I stand by that statement because if you knew you were going to be in the final, you’d want the extra game because it’s never going to hurt you, I mean (Shannon) Kleibrink had a two-game better record than Jones and she’s going home.”
Coming into the weekend, not many in the rings of curling picked this club to play on the weekend at all, never mind earn a bye to the final. Curling under the radar is just fine with Carey.
“We love being the underdog, and we liked our draw. No evening games, so not too much attention on us so we can pretty much bump along in a little bit of obscurity. Then you go 4-0 and everyone else is looking at you from a couple of games back and they start to notice you. I don’t mind it,” says Carey.
“And you also feel like you have a little something to prove, which is never a bad thing either. It gives you a little bit of an edge and I usually respond well to that.”
Cool as a confident curling cucumber, Carey looks forward to the challenge and opportunity to play Jones and with a win, earn the first berth to the Olympic trials in Winnipeg in 2013. While that is the goal, Carey says win or lose, the week has been a tremendous experience of growth and keeps her crew on the path to success they have charted.
But if it does come down to the last brick today and she’s tossing it, what would she prefer to throw?
“If I had a shot to win the game I’d pretty much be happy anyway, but if I had to pick I guess I’d choose an out-turn hit. I think my stats show I was highest on that one but honestly, I’ll take any shot to win.”
Flip the coin to the men’s final, and we see a re-run of last year’s capper, one Howard chalked up. In fact, these grizzled curling vets have played each other so often, Martin had to pause after practice Saturday night to check his mental file folder and confirm that in fact it was this event that Howard bettered him.
“We battle. Just about every time we play Glenn it comes down to the last inch and the last shot – sometimes a wild shot, you never know, so I look forward to it, I really enjoy these games,” said Martin.
Both skips have put on a clinic this week – Martin running the table at 6-0, Howard beating defending Brier champ Jeff Stoughton on back-to-back nights including a 100% game in the semi-finals. Martin says that’s what this level of curling is all about, that it’s great for the game, great for the fans, and lots of fun.
“It’s no problem, either way, I’m sure, for either of us whatever happens… because it will be a battle and they are always so much fun,” he said.
“They beat us last year in this one, so maybe we can get back that one (Sunday).”
Regardless of the result Sunday, two things appear certain: The winner will also earn a berth to the Winnipeg Olympic trials and it is very unlikely this will be the last time these two teams face each other for a big prize on the circuit this season. Throw third-placer Stoughton into that mix as well.
Martin says younger players are pushing all three of the skips to stay on the edge, be in better shape, and train harder.
“We have to continue to do that or the young guys are going to pass us,” says Martin.
And that physical work regimen is often done out of the media eye.
“I don’t know why that is?” says Martin.
“It’s certainly getting better, in Edmonton for instance, the (media) guys know where to find us, they just come to the gym,”
“But across Canada, it’s not publicized as much as it should be, but that’s not the media’s fault. That’s curling’s fault.”