Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba curlers rock the world

Season of champions makes for tantalizing prospects next year and beyond

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Another curling season is behind us, and what a remarkable season it was for Manitoba.

What is even more interesting than what Manitoba teams accomplished -- world title in men's, Canadian titles in senior men's and women's masters and a razor-thin Canadian runner-up in women's -- is what they might accomplish next year.

Consider: Manitoba will boast two of the top three men's teams in the world heading into next season, with world champion Jeff Stoughton and World Curling Tour money leader Mike McEwen, both of Winnipeg. Take recent Players Champion Kevin Martin of Alberta out of the mix and Winnipeg men's teams would be 1-2.

It's the same story in women's curling heading into next season, with Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones and Chelsea Carey representing two of the top three women's rinks in the world.

Jones won the Players Championship and led the World Curling Tour in earnings this season. She'd have a Canadian women's title too if only she'd made a nose hit on either of her two final shots in Charlottetown at the Scotties in February.

Carey finished second on the tour money list this season and was named women's "Breakthrough Team" by her fellow competitors last weekend at the Players Championship. Only world silver medallist Amber Holland of Saskatchewan breaks up a Manitoba sweep of the top two women's teams in the world.

On top of all that, there is Winnipeg's Cathy Overton-Clapham and Brandon's Rob Fowler waiting in the wings.

Overton-Clapham proved emphatically that she can still curl with the very best in the world in that memorable win over Jones in Charlottetown. Under duress and playing with a first-year team cobbled together at the last moment, Overton-Clapham won a Manitoba women's title and more than $20,000 on the cash tour despite playing a light schedule.

With a promising new young team already in place for next year, a prodigious third in Breanne Meakin, who will only get better with experience, and the distractions of her feud with Jones now behind her, Overton-Clapham could turn Manitoba women's curling next season into a Big Three for the first time ever.

Which is exactly what Fowler could do for men's curling in Manitoba. Skipping a first-year rural team from whom not much was expected this winter, Fowler was perhaps the biggest surprise of all in Manitoba curling in 2010-11. He put together a playoff run at the Manitoba provincials and finished eighth overall on the World Curling Tour money list, taking $41,750 in earnings and qualifying for the playoffs in three of four Grand Slam events. Like Carey in women's, Fowler was recognized by his competitors last weekend as the men's "Breakthrough Team."

Put it all together and you've got six Manitoba-based teams -- three men's and three women's -- with legitimate aspirations for Canadian championships in 2012. Even more tantalizing is that it is all happening in the lead-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The Canadian Olympic qualifying event for curling will be held at the MTS Centre in December 2013. No Manitoba-based team has ever won that event and gone on to represent Canada in curling at the Winter Olympics.

The earliest indicators suggest that may be about to change.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 30, 2011 C4

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