World Financial Group Continental Cup ready to go in St. Albert

So the show goes on . . . today at the Servus Credit Union Place . . . which signals good reason for three cheers and the proverbial tiger . . . but for more than some time there was more than some doubt. Moments after the conclusion of the Team World triumph at Camrose in December, 2008, curling’s version of the Ryder Cup was being embalmed and prepared for a deep-six burial. The Continental Cup had no sponsor in sight and everybody in the administrative chambers of the World Curling Federation and the Canadian Curling Association admitted it was just too expensive to stage without commercial assistance. Then, lo and behold, along came the World Financial Group to assist in cranking open the sepulchre and providing illumination for the resurrection of an event that had been enjoying immense popularity among the game’s elite players and legions of fans.

Kevin Martin and John Morris at the 2008 Continental Cup

Hence, Continental Cup VII — the World Financial Group Continental Cup presented by Monsanto, if you must know — and for the third time in its history, a rubber match. These keep cropping up because neither Team World nor Team North America has managed to put together a string of victories numbering more than one. Team World has the latest opportunity to repeat. It won rounds two, four and six while the home squad was successful at the inaugural and in rounds three and five. “I don’t think winning here necessarily is the most important thing in this competition,” said World captain Pal Trulsen, the Norwegian from Oslo, on Wednesday. “The most important thing is to make good competition and try to carry it right down to the last shot in the last skins game to decide it. All our decisions are geared in hopes that is what happens. “The best thing for us is to have a good weekend and every body goes home with a smile on his face. Then we come back next year and win if we don’t win this year.” Trulsen and coach Peja Lindholm directed the winner last time and both are back in their respective roles. “I said the World team was the strongest-ever in 2008?” Trulsen repeats a question. “Ha, that’s what the team captain has to say every time. Actually, I think this lineup is as strong as the one we had (at Camrose). But I’d say the North Americans have as tough a lineup as I’ve seen, too. You have Martin and Koe on the same team. That’s pretty close to one that had Martin and Ferbey together in Regina. “Maybe we’ll have a fantastic weekend,” he said with a grin. “Or maybe not.” Rookie Northern American captain Neil  Harrison of Newmarket, Ont., stresses the fun aspect of the production. “You spend your whole time in curling cheering against somebody and all of a sudden you’re all one team now,” he said. “I was surprised and honoured (to be chosen). It was basically a no-brainer. I’m still a pretty big curling fan. How do you say no to come out and see this kind of curling? I haven’t been too involved lately. You do your time, I spent a lot of years on the ice and I really enjoyed it. But I do enjoy a bit of coaching (with Patti Lank’s U.S. team). Harrison’s coaching mate is Thunder Bay’s Rick Lang, who handled the duties in Continental Cup II, and lost. “He’s the brains and I’m not the beauty so I’m not sure how we’ll get on,” said Harrison. “But it’ll be a joint thing. Rick’s done a lot of homework on this. “This will be more fun than anything. It’s like being out there because you feel you have some influence on it as captain. But you can’t see going too far wrong with the talent you’ve got in front of you. It makes it a lot easier.” The North American talent includes teams skipped by Edmonton’s Kevin Martin and Kevin Koe (Olympic and world champs respectively), Cheryl Bernard and Jennifer Jones (Olympic runners-up and Canadian  champs), Pete Fenson and Erika Brown (U.S. champs). The World opposition will come from teams skipped by Thomas Ulsrud (Norway), Niklas Edin (Sweden) and David Murdoch (Scotland, directing an all-star lineup), Andrea Schoepp (world champ from Germany), Bingyu Wang (China) and Mirjam Ott (Switzerland). “The fun thing about this event is that our teammates are our normal opponents,” said Schoepp. “It’s a good feeling, it’s a fun feeling, you have to be relaxed and just try your best. You just enjoy being out there. And I think it’s the most fun if this event goes right down to the last game. It’s what I like. It’s kind of boring if it’s one-sided, win or lose.” The idea for the Continental Cup was hatched back in 1995 during discussions that led to the formation of curling’s Season-of-Champions concept. The World Curling Federation already had heard the suggestion from members of the International Olympic Committee that additional disciplines in the sport would be looked upon favourably. So the powers-that-be started tossing around formats. Soon, a concept was taken beyond the drawing-board stage. It was originally planned to take the place of the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials during the three seasons between pre-Olympic years and, in the latter, would be held but staged out of Canada — either in the U.S. or Europe. “A lot of suggestions were raised,” recalls CCA director of events Warren Hansen of Vancouver, “with a view toward the desire and need to introduce different aspects of curling. I mean, even golf has a variety of approaches other than medal play. And, from the Olympic standpoint, we’d been encouraged to develop different methods of participation.” Hence, the current tradition-busting format which brings together 12 top curling teams to compete in a unique combine, embracing singles (points curling), doubles (a whole new wrinkle born of a proposal for competition involving both genders, equal participation, with a quick and aggressive style of play), team (normal championship play) and skins (play emphasizing the result of each end rather than just the final outcome) which was introduced in Canada as a made-for-television event back in 1986. Much like the Ryder golf shootout,  a total of 400 points are available to the sparring sides from the four curling disciplines. The first team to reach 201 points will be declared the winner, which is worth $52,000 (Cdn) of the total $91,000 (Cdn) in prize money. Granted, the prize pot has shrunken by more than 50 per cent from its original $200,000 (Cdn) but that is a reflection of the times and the fact that the original outlay involved sponsorship.