Bet you said Kerry Burtnyk and Jeff Stoughton, right?
Wrong. Because while no one was looking, a couple of women -- Kaitlyn Lawes and Jennifer Jones -- have taken over that mantle.
That's not to say Burtnyk and Stoughton aren't still excellent curlers -- they are. But the cold hard facts are that neither man -- or anyone else from a province that has won a record 26 Briers over the years -- has won a Canadian men's curling championship in 10 years and counting.
Burtnyk didn't even make the playoffs at last year's Brier and if you did a poll right now asking which province is most likely to win the 2009 Brier in Calgary, Manitoba would be a long way down the list. Our men's curlers, let's face it, simply no longer strike fear in other provinces the way they once did.
But two of our female teams do -- and in a way like our women haven't done since Connie Laliberte was at her peak.
Consider: Since 2005, Jones has played in three Canadian women's finals, winning two of them and adding a world title last year.
And Lawes? Well, in the past year, she's done nothing less than win the 2008 Canadian junior title, smack around some women's competition on the bonspiel circuit this fall and will now play LaSalle's Sabrina Neufeld in today's semifinal (9:30 a.m.) of the 2009 Manitoba provincial juniors at Granite Curling Club.
Lawes finished the juniors round-robin undefeated at 7-0, but lost the 1 vs 1 page playoff game 7-6 to Ste. Anne's Alyssa Vandeopoele late Monday night. Vandepoele advances straight to today's final (1:30 p.m.), where she'll face the winner of Lawes vs. Neufeld. Neufeld advanced to the semifinal with a 7-6 win over Assiniboine's Michelle Montford in the 2 vs 2 game Monday night.
On the junior men's side, Portage's Michael Johnson defeated Pembina's Sam Good 9-5 in the 1 vs 1 game Monday night and has a bye straight through to this afternoon's final, where he will face the winner of this morning's semifinal between Good and clubmate Jim Coleman. Coleman advanced with a 5-2 win over Pembina's Daniel Birchard in the 2 vs 2 game Monday night.
"We're excited about the position we're in," Lawes said before Monday night's game. "We've accomplished our first goal and now we're looking at a new goal."
That new goal, of course, is to win the province and the country again so Lawes can achieve the one thing she was denied last year -- a world title.
A disappointing performance at the 2008 World Juniors in Sweden last year saw Lawes come away with a disappointing bronze medal and she's determined this year to right that wrong.
Only her third from last year -- Jenna Loder -- remains with Lawes. Lawes is playing this year with a new front end -- Laryssa Grenkow and Breanne Meakin -- because her old front end graduated from juniors and she's got a new coach in Rob Meakin, the 1995 world champion with Burtnyk and a former national team coach for the U.S.
Lawes says Meakin's experience under the hot lights of intensely competitive curling just makes her team stronger.
"It's great working with him because he's been in these kinds of situations before," said Lawes. "He's smart and he knows the game."
Meakin represents a little male curling influence in a winter which otherwise appears as though it will belong to Manitoba women. Again.