Canada Cup field ready to take to the ice

The total prize purse is $150,000. Each winner picks up $25,000. There are no Olympic trials points on the line for this particular edition of curling’s Canada Cup — it’s a post-Olympic year, you understand — but Canadian Team Ranking System points abound and the top four finishers on the 2010-11 CTRS lineup qualify automatically for the 2013 Olympic pre-trials. All of which is reason enough, wouldn’t you say, to cast eyeballs on the action that will hold forth at the Medicine Hat Arena starting today? The Canada Cup, you should know, ranks as the penultimate major curling event of the Canadian rockchucking season. Winners automatically return and also qualify for Canadian berths at next season’s Continental Cup in Langley, B.C. What’s that? You are looking for highly-rated teams that might be missing in action? Forget it. There really isn’t a missing link. All the top dogs — many of them fierce rivals — are on hand, including Kevin Martin of Edmonton who won gold at the Vancouver Olympics, a couple of Briers in a row prior to that, not to mention the last staging of the Canada Cup. Then, too, there’s Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard, the Olympic silver medallist, defending Canadian champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg and the defending Canada Cup women’s champion Shannon Kleibrink of Calgary. And, lest we forget, the current world and Canadian men’s champion is Kevin Koe of Edmonton. Koe never has missed a previous Canada Cup renewal and his championship team won’t pass on this one, either. The action starts at 8:30 a.m. with five women’s tussles. They include: Kleibrink facing off with provincial rival Heather Nedohin of Edmonton, Bernard tackling 2007 world champion Kelly Scott of Kelowna, Jones facing fellow-Manitoban Chelsea Carey of Morden, former champion Stefanie Lawton of Saskatoon going against Shelley Nichols of St. John’s, NL, and Krista McCarville of Thunder Bay locking horns with Amber Holland of Kronau, SK. The men’s lineup, all of which takes to the ice at 12:30 p.m., includes six-time Brier champion Randy Ferbey who is aligned this season with 2006 Olympic gold medallist Brad Gushue of St. John’s. Ferbey, along with Martin, is also a three-time Canada Cup winner (2003, 2004, 2007). He’ll deliver third stones and skip the team while Gushue tosses the last bricks. His former third, Mark Nichols, drops down to second, and Ryan Fry is the lead. Glenn Howard of Coldwater, ON, the 2007 Brier champ and three-time runner-up is back with 1998 Brier-winning skip Wayne Middaugh throwing third stones. Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton, a two-time Brier champ (1996, 1999) also returns with former third Jonathan Mead back in the saddle. The obvious darkhorse pick on the men’s side would be Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen who takes to the ice with three straight World Tour winner’s cheques in his back pocket. Brandon’s Rob Fowler, formerly a second player with Stoughton, also qualifies because of early-season cashspiel successes. Rounding out the men’s field are defending Quebec champion Serge Reid of Jonquière, winner of the recent Lac Leamy cashspiel, and young up-and-coming teams skipped by Brent Bawel of Calgary and still-junior Mat Camm of Ottawa, whose vice-skip is another Howard — Glenn’s offspring Scott. In today’s first round of men’s play, Ferbey faces Fowler, Martin tackles Reid, McEwen plays Camm, Koe plays Bawel and Howard tangles with Stoughton. The men’s seeds: Pool A — Martin (1), Ferbey (4), McEwen (5), Reid (8), Camm (10). Pool B — Howard (2), Koe (3), Stoughton (6), Fowler (7), Bawel (9). The women’s seeds: Pool C — Jones (1), Kleibrink (4), Lawton (5), Carey (8), Nichols (10). Pool D — Bernard (2), Holland (3), Scott (6), Nedohin (7), McCarville (9). Six of the previous Canada Cup events were staged in Kamloops, B.C. The last renewal at Yorkton proved a resounding success. The draw calls for teams of each gender to be seeded into two groups. Each five-team segment will play a round robin draw with an additional crossover match versus a team in the other group. The top two teams in each group will advance to a Page playoff crossover with No. 1 teams playing for a berth in finals with the loser dropping to semi-finals to play the winner of the sudden-death playoff match involving the No. 2 teams. Round-robin action will continue through Friday — other draws today are set for 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., on Thursday at 9 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., Friday at 9, 1:30 and 6. The Page Playoff matches begin Saturday at 8:30 a.m., with TSN televising the women’s semi-final at 1:30 p.m., the men’s semi-final at 6:30 p.m. and both finals on Sunday – the women’s at 11 a.m. and the men’s slated for a 1 p.m. MT start.