Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

125th MCA Bonspiel ready to rock

Number of rinks comes up short, but event still biggest and best

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It's still going to be huge.

Indeed, with 448 teams entered, the 125th renewal of the MCA Bonspiel that begins Thursday at curling clubs across Winnipeg and the surrounding area will be the biggest edition since 2005 of the annual Winnipeg winter tradition -- and almost 100 more teams than the 352 that participated last year.

But amid the celebration this coming week of an indominatable event that has survived uninterrupted in the face of two world wars and all the social and political tumult that has unravelled over the course of three different centuries, there is also a tinge of disappointment.

Because while 448 teams is a lot of curling teams, it is not the 512 teams -- emblamatic of a perfect mathematical draw -- that Curl Manitoba organizers were hoping to ice for this special anniversary.

And that 448 teams is also barely one-third of the 1,280 teams that participated the last time the Bonspiel celebrated a major anniversary -- its 100th in 1988.

So, even the Curl Manitoba president admits to some bittersweet feelings this coming week.

"I don't know if I was overly optimistic, but I was really hopeful we could get to 512," Resby Coutts said earlier this week. "Obviously, it's not going to be the same kind of celebration as the 100th was.

"But you've still got to keep it in perspective. The fact is that 125 years is still an incredible accomplishment -- anything surviving that long is an accomplishment.

"And 448 teams is also still quite an accomplishment. I was talking to one of my counterparts in another province and telling them we were a bit disappointed to just get 448 teams. And they said, '448 teams? That's 400 more than we have in all of New Brunswick.'"

Yes, but this isn't New Brunswick. The Bonspiel routinely attracted 800-plus teams as late as the late-1980s and attracted the perfect 512 teams every year between 1994 -- when it was capped at that number -- and 2003.

But then in 2004, entries came up three short at 509 and that opened a leak that Curl Manitoba has never been able to plug again. Entries plunged every year for the next five years, made a small recovery and then and hit a 46-year low in 2012.

Still, for all its difficulties, the MCA Bonspiel continues to be nothing less than the biggest single curling event in the world and one that continues to attract teams from all over the globe -- including, this year, the Chinese national men's team.

"It's one of those things that is just special because it's special," said Coutts. "I'd liken it to St. Andrews Golf Course -- it's not that it's the greatest golf course, but it's special because of all that history that is there."


The 125th MCA Bonspiel

Jan. 17-21

At curling clubs in Winnipeg and surrounding area

What's at stake: The Bonspiel is primarily a recreational event that is more about bragging rights than anything, but there are also up for grabs four final berths into next month's Manitoba men's curling championship. Top Manitoba teams like Jeff Stoughton, Mike McEwen and defending champion Rob Fowler already have their provincials berths, but there are a few other prominent curlers -- including multiple former provincial champion Dave Elias -- still looking.

What's special: All the entrants this year will receive special commemorative gifts as part of their entry package. The opening ceremonies will take place Thursday at the Mother Club, the Granite, and the opening draw will include teams from all seven of the original clubs that formed the Manitoba Curling Association in 1888 -- Granite, Thistle, Portage, Carberry, Morden, Stonewall and Stony Mountain.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2013 C7

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