Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba teams ready to roar

Province has never sent a competitive team to Olys

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Kaitlyn Lawes (left), who throws third stones for Jennifer Jones, said when she heard the Oly trials are 44 days away, 'I got a little bit of goosebumps.'

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Kaitlyn Lawes (left), who throws third stones for Jennifer Jones, said when she heard the Oly trials are 44 days away, 'I got a little bit of goosebumps.'

While Manitobans relaxed on cabin-side docks and street-side patios enjoying the summer season, Reid Carruthers had other things on his mind.

"It seemed like the summer would never end and you couldn't get into the curling season quick enough," said Carruthers, second on Jeff Stoughton's team.

It's not that Carruthers -- or any other members of teams Stoughton, Mike McEwen, Jennifer Jones and Chelsea Carey -- were wishing away the summer. They wanted to get on the ice in preparation for the 2013 Roar of the Rings at the MTS Centre.

Now Carruthers and his team are halfway from the start of the season to the Roar of the Rings. They have three bonspiels under their belt and will play three more before stepping onto the MTS Centre ice in just 44 days.

Naturally, Carruthers isn't the only granite-flinging Manitoban excited to play in front of a home-town crowd.

Kaitlyn Lawes, Jennifer Jones' third, took in the 2009 Roar of the Rings as a spectator in Edmonton. At the time she was throwing third for Cathy King, but the team didn't make it through the pre-trials event. Now she and her team have the entire season to focus on their December date at the MTS Centre.

Jones' team was the first to qualify for the Roar of the Rings when they defeated fellow Manitoban Chelsea Carey at the 2011 Canada Cup.

"We've been excited for a long time. When I heard the 44 days I got a little bit of goosebumps. We're so excited for the Trials," Lawes said during a Wednesday press conference. "It's going to be such an amazing event and we're so lucky to be able to be playing the trials at home."

All of the teams in the Roar of the Rings have been focusing on peaking in early December in order to have a better shot at going to the Olympics. But Lawes points out while it's important for her team to peak at the Roar of the Rings, they can't over exert themselves either.

"I wouldn't say we've approached (this season) too differently. I mean, yes, we want to make sure that we're peaking in December so we've planned our schedule accordingly," Lawes said. "We wanted to make sure we're not overdoing it. So we have a couple of events, pretty much every other weekend, and it's just a nice schedule to lead up to December."

Mike McEwen and his teammates are heading down a similar avenue. They are making sure they don't burnout before the start of the Roar of the Rings as they need all of the energy and focus they can afford when December rolls around. While the team has proved it can play with the best in the country (it earned the trial berth by having the most Canadian Team Ranking System points from 2011-13), it has yet to play on a stage this large.

Fortunately for McEwen, some of Canada's past representatives at the Olympics had just as much experience. Ontario's Mike Harris, a silver medallist in 1998, didn't reach the Brier until 2004 and 2006 while gold medallist Brad Gushue didn't crack the top three of the Brier until 2007.

"I just hope that if you're in a high-pressure situation, automation just kind of takes over and you do what you've been practising," McEwen said. "But I could see how that could get pretty overwhelming."

Besides 1932 when curling was a demonstration sport, Manitoba has never sent a representative to the Olympic Games. But there is still one man with an Olympic gold medal who curls out of the province. Stoughton's lead Mark Nichols was part of Gushue's 2006 team that won the medal in Turin, Italy.

It's given Carruthers and his team a little extra incentive come the Roar of the Rings.

"I think it's pretty inspiring. He earned the gold medal and he's as fired up as anyone to get another gold medal. But he's inspiring to everyone else on the team because we're all jealous of what he has," Carruthers said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2013 C6

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