Richard Daneault still has one game left to play in the Manitoba Open, but already the skip knows this: He will lead his new team into the Safeway Championship.
On Sunday, Daneault clinched a berth in the provincial curling championship when his rink rolled out a morning win over Scott Madams, which also pushed them through to the bonspiel's top Asham event final against Deer Lodge's Sean Grassie tonight.
For Daneault, the clinch is a relief: He had his sights set on making it to the Safeway when he assembled his Granite Curling Club foursome last year. But after a disappointing performance in the zone playdowns -- the fact the skip was battling illness didn't help -- Daneault, third Chris Galbraith, second Braden Zawada and lead Mike Neufeld were still on the outside looking in coming into the Manitoba Open.
Not anymore. Though Daneault has loads of provincial experience, and is a two-time Manitoba champion at second -- first with Kerry Burtnyk in 2008, then with Rob Fowler just two years ago -- this is the first year he's skipped since he was a junior. "It's kind of exciting," Daneault said on Sunday. "It's something I'm really looking forward to trying out... it's always a little different when playing a different position."
Now, it's time to find out who will join Daneault when the Safeway Championship kicks off at MTS Iceplex on Jan. 29. Three more berths are up for grabs today, as the Manitoba Open roars into its final games.
For some curlers, there could be a bonus chance to qualify: Because Grassie was already set to play in the provincials, on the strength of his Manitoba Curling Tour performance, on Sunday Manitoba Open organizers were looking at the possibility of a special playoff game to award the berth Grassie would have earned, when he made it to the Asham event final. The participants for that playoff would be determined based on the standings of eligible teams after Sunday's games.
Meanwhile, Assiniboine Curling Club organizers are hoping to see a packed house tonight, as the club hosts eight of the Manitoba Open finals starting at 7 p.m. (The rest are slated for St. Vital Curling Club.) Among the games is the Grassie-Daneault tilt, as well as the Free Press and Safeway-Lucerne event finals, the winners of which could earn a Safeway Championship berth, if eligible and not already qualified.
While matchups for those finals, or for the special playoff game, had yet to crystallize before the 9 p.m. draw on Sunday, the main contenders were starting to shake out. Among them was skip Kevin Brown, who moved on to face Randy Neufeld in Sunday night's Safeway-Lucerne semifinal with an 8-2 win over Jose Loureiro at Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club in the afternoon.
Though that game was slated to run long past press time, the win at least put Brown and his team -- lead (and University of Manitoba Bisons football defensive co-ordinator) Stan Pierre, second Darren Naharnie and third Paul Armstrong, who's skipping this week due to injury -- with a shot at getting a chance to play for a berth.
Not bad for a guy who only started curling seven years ago -- though his sister, regular Manitoba Scotties contender Joelle Brown, gave him plenty of tips when he threw third for her on their mixed team.
"It snowballed from there," Brown said, of his team's steady growth. "We've had a really good 'spiel so far, and I don't think we'd be upset if we gave it our best shot and fell short. We're going to play our best and see what happens."