There were few things more reliable in the world of curling than Kerry Burtnyk sticking a draw on the four-foot ring.
And so it was perfectly fitting Burtnyk did precisely that at the Granite Curling Club on Thursday with the ceremonial first rock of another indomitable local curling institution, the MCA Bonspiel.
Winnipeg's Burtnyk -- a two-time Canadian champion and the 1995 world champion -- was given the very special honour of throwing out the first rock of the 125th renewal of the world's largest and longest continuously running curling bonspiel.
And true to form, he made no mistake. With another curling legend holding the broom -- two-time world champion Rod Hunter, who also played in the 75th MCA Bonspiel way back in 1963 -- Burtnyk drew the top four-foot to the delight of a large crowd of curlers, dignitaries and fans gathered at the venerable Granite for this year's opening ceremonies.
While the result was familiar to any Manitoba curling fan, Burtnyk revealed afterward it was actually the first curling rock he had thrown in two years, save for a couple of practice stones he threw at Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club on Sunday evening as a last-minute precaution.
"I just wanted to make sure I could still get up and down in the hack," laughed Burtnyk, who retired from competitive curling three years ago and has been off the ice entirely since attempting to win a Manitoba seniors title two years ago.
Among those watching on Thursday were the members of China's national men's team. While the squad is based out of Harbin, China, they were well aware last night of the special history of the moment.
"This club is the oldest in Canada and this is the 125th anniversary of this bonspiel. And it's the largest in the world," China skip Rui Liu said through the team's interpreter, Du Wei.
The Liu foursome, which is being coached by Lorne and Chris Hamblin of Morris, will represent China in April at the men's world curling championship and are in Manitoba this month sharpening their skills.
The team won the Brandon Bonspiel last weekend and will again get the kind of competition this week they'd never get curling in Asia. Their opponent on Thursday night's opening draw, for instance, was former American men's champion Craig Brown, who made the trip up from Madison, Wis., for this year's bonspiel.
But while they're here for the competition, Liu said the team is also hoping to get a flavour for the other thing that makes the MCA Bonspiel famous.
"We'd like to be a part of the party. We like to drink beer and communicate with the other teams," said Liu. "But we have a busy schedule, so it all depends. We must worry about the competition first."
Burtnyk, on the other had, said the competition is taking a back seat for him this year. He said he will play this week as part of a five-man team entered under the name of another former world champion, Ken Tresoor, but he said the team does not have competitor cards and could not claim one of the four final Safeway Championship berths up for grabs in this year's bonspiel even if they did win.
While Burtnyk nailed the four-foot with his ceremonial rock, it bears noting the shot came with an asterisk -- seven sweepers.
To commemorate the 125th anniversary of the MCA Bonspiel, Burtnyk had sweepers assisting him from each of the seven original clubs that formed the MCA -- Granite, Thistle, Carberry, Morden, Stony Mountain, Stonewall and Portage.
The MCA Bonspiel continues today and runs through the weekend at curling clubs across Winnipeg and the surrounding area. The event finals will take place Monday night.