Curling fans, strap yourselves in. This ride is going to have more turns than Disney World's Rock 'n' Roller Coaster.
And with a talent pool of 32 teams headlined by Nos. 1 and 2 seeds Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen, someone is going to have to shoot the lights out to win the 2013 Safeway Provincial Men's Curling Championship to be held Feb. 6-10 at Neepawa's Yellowhead Centre.
The winner will punch a ticket to the Tim Hortons Brier, the national championship, set for March 2-10 at Edmonton.
Will Stoughton and his Charleswood team of Jon Mead, Reid Carruthers and Mark Nichols find the way back to provincial glory?
Winners of five of the last seven Safeway championships including three in a row from 2009 to 2011, Stoughton lost last year's 2 vs. 2 Page playoff game to the eventual champion Rob Fowler, this year's third seed.
Will Brandon's Fowler foursome, giant-killers at last year's Safeway championship, gather some Westman magic in Neepawa to repeat as the province's curling kingpins?
Can the Mike McEwen team, seeded second, finally win the provincial prize after being three times unlucky in the last three Safeway championship finals?
"I was thinking about it earlier today -- we've qualified in everything we've played in as a foursome this year. We've been in two semis and two finals in our last four events so we feel like we're very consistent right now," said McEwen, who along with his Fort Rouge team members B.J. Neufeld, Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld lost in Sunday's National Grand Slam of Curling final to Stoughton at Port Hawkesbury, N.S.
"Up to that final game of this past weekend, we had the best three games we've had as a team all year. We're not reading too much into how it went in the final but we're pretty excited about how it felt to play as a team 90 per cent. It's just going to be a matter, come the final Sunday, finding that really high level of play that we're going to need to win."
Team Stoughton lead Nichols and his wife Colette moved to Winnipeg from St. John's, N.L., last summer so he could join Stoughton's foursome and go after World Curling Tour success, a 2014 Olympics berth and a Canadian title. The team won its first Grand Slam event last weekend in Nova Scotia.
"We did take a big chance, leaving home and everything behind, to chase after another dream but I feel great about how things are going this year," said Nichols, who won eight provincial titles in Newfoundland with the Brad Gushue team and gold at the 2006 Olympics in Turin. "The next goal is to win a provincial championship, get to the Brier and go from there."
The Fowler team wore the Manitoba crown proudly for the past year and has repeat on its radar.
"It was a great feeling and it's been a long year but we are definitely looking to defend our title," said Derek Samagalski, the Team Fowler lead. "We get to curl in some of the big (cashspiel) events with the Grand Slams and we get to play for some pretty nice cash against some of the best teams in the world but there's just a special thing with the provincials. Growing up as kid, everybody wants to go to the Brier, you dream about playing in the Brier.
"Playing against (and beating) the top teams in Manitoba last year and getting to the Brier, I had never played on a stage that big before and our team learned a lot from the experience. Holding that provincial banner, that's the best feeling in the world."
New this year to the Safeway championship is a television deal that will include live national coverage on Sportsnet and local coverage on City TV (channel 8, cable 13) of the 6:30 p.m. semifinal on Feb. 9 and the 9 a.m. semifinal on Feb. 10 as well as the championship final at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 10.
Top 10 seeds
1. Jeff Stoughton, Charleswood
2. Mike McEwen, Fort Rouge
3. Rob Fowler, Brandon
4. William Lyburn, Deer Lodge
5. Terry McNamee, Brandon
6. Sean Grassie, Deer Lodge
7. Daley Peters, Gimli
8. Dave Elias, West Kildonan
9. Scott Ramsay, Granite
10. David Bohn, Assiniboine Memorial