Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Big crowd, big upsets, big day

Jones lone 'Toba winner in first-round action

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The crowds were big.

The Hollywood celebrity in the house, Will Ferrell's "Ron Burgundy" was generous with his time, funny and showed surprisingly good draw weight in sticking the 12-foot with a practice rock.

A Winnipeg team -- Jennifer Jones -- gave the locals something to cheer about, even if the other three Winnipeg teams did not.

And with favourites falling -- and upstarts winning -- everywhere you looked on the ice, notice was served on opening day this 2013 Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings is going to provide compelling drama at the MTS Centre right through the week.

The biggest curling event to be staged in Winnipeg since the Brier in 2008 mostly lived up to its years of billing as eight men's and eight women's teams embarked on the final road to Sochi.

A 10-2 win by Jones over cross-town rival Chelsea Carey on the opening draw Sunday afternoon -- which included just the second six-ender in Canadian curling trials history -- was the highlight of the day for the legion of Winnipeg curling fans, a total of 20,374 over the first two draws, who descended upon the downtown arena.

But as you'd expect any time you assemble the best 16 curling teams in Canada, there were upsets as well. The lopsided nature of the Carey loss to Jones raised some eyebrows, although there was some context to be noted -- the Carey squad had to play the game without regular third Kristy McDonald, who was sick.

And losses by the Winnipeg-based men's entries Sunday night -- Jeff Stoughton lost 7-4 to defending Canadian champion Brad Jacobs, while Mike McEwen lost 5-3 to defending Olympic gold medallist Kevin Martin -- did not stick to the script organizers had written for this opening day.

But hey, what are you going to do when you shoot 89 per cent as a team, like Stoughton did, but run into a team in Jacobs who just happens to put up a 90 per cent performance?

"Of course we'd rather win the first game than lose it, but we're not going to hang our heads. You can't in this event and so we'll plug away (on Monday)," said Stoughton.

It was a similar script Sunday night for McEwen, whose squad threw 87 per cent as a team but put up one bad end in gift-wrapping Martin a three-ender in the seventh and could never entirely recover on a night the Martin squad shot 91 per cent overall.

Sure, McEwen battled back from a 4-1 deficit to force Martin to draw the button with the final rock of the game to preserve the win, but in a field this tough, there are no small victories, said McEwen.

"I guess it was close at the end, but I missed two back-to-back shots (in the seventh end)... two really bad ones. And we didn't make it hard on Kevin. So that was a kind of giveaway kind of game," said McEwen.

If there was any consolation to be drawn for the three Manitoba teams that lost on opening day, it was they had a lot of company on a day when each of the final four teams to qualify for this event -- Valerie Sweeting, Renee Sonnenberg, John Morris and Jacobs -- recorded wins.

"Judging by the start, it could get messy, the field," said McEwen.

Morris hung an 8-6 defeat Sunday night on Ontario's Glenn Howard, who is the pick of many to win it all here, and said after the game that winning his trials berth just a couple of weeks ago in a pre-trials event in Kitchener brings with it some momentum coming into this event.

"For sure. The best event of the season for us was the pre-trials and it was just two weeks behind us. So we can still build on that one," said Morris. "And I know if you're the first or second qualifier for the Trials (as Howard was), you're almost in limbo for two or three years preparing. It's hard to really be as motivated."

Howard -- who has won everything there is to win in curling, multiple times, with the exception of the right to represent Canada at an Olympic Games -- still had his sense of humour last night.

"I guess we're not going undefeated," Howard laughed.

The other result Sunday night was another upset of sorts as 2010 Brier champ Kevin Koe fell 9-8 to 2012 Players Champion John Epping.

"Epping played well and we were a little off," said Koe, "and that's about all it takes out here."

Stoughton plays Martin at 1:30 p.m. on the only men's draw today, while McEwen takes on Jacobs. Twitter: @PaulWiecek


The Winnipeg Police Pipe Band marches in during the opening ceremony.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 2, 2013 C1

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