Organizers of the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings are hopeful upgrades to the MTS Centre made when the Winnipeg Jets became the building's main tenant in 2011 will ensure there will be no repeat of the ice-making problems that dogged the last major curling event to grace the building, the 2008 Brier.
Head icemaker Hans Wuthrich said Friday night a vastly improved ice plant and an upgraded ventilation system installed to meet NHL specifications should make a big difference in holding curling's delicate ice conditions when the big crowds begin to fill the building starting on Sunday.
That was the problem at the 2008 Brier when large crowds created unexpected warm airflows that were wreaking havoc on side sheets, forcing ice-makers mid-week to jerry-rig tarpaulins from the rafters to try and redirect the warm air.
"They've changed some stuff around since the NHL, but we're still not exactly sure how it's going to work once the crowds come in," said Gimli's Wuthrich, who will also make curling ice in Sochi for the Winter Olympics.
"They've got two new variable-speed fans, which they didn't have before. That will help big-time," said Wuthrich.
"And the ice plant is almost double what it used to be. With the NHL, everything had to be increased.
"So it should be better, for sure. But until we get a couple games in here, we can't be sure."
The early ice reviews from the curlers, who got their first look at the ice in a brief practice session Friday night, were positive.
"It's a little bit green, which it usually is at practice," said Winnipeg skip Chelsea Carey. "But it's moving nice, tons of curl. It should make for lots of good shots this week."
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The ice conditions this week aren't the only thing that will likely be different than when the Brier was here in 2008.
The atmosphere at an Olympic Trials curling event is decidedly more serious than the raucous, party atmosphere curling fans usually associate with a Brier.
Winnipeg skip Jeff Stoughton said the huge stakes associated with this event has the inevitable effect of tamping down the frivolity so commonly associated with major Canadian curling events.
"It is definitely different. The players, even toward each other, are quieter. The crowd is different because they know what's on the line. They seem even quieter because it's not a Brier and rowdy atmosphere," said Stoughton.
You will also see the difference in the bodies of the curlers, who judging by Friday's practice session are visibly buffer and in better shape for this event than perhaps any other in recent memory.
"Everyone's taking care of themselves a little bit more," said Stoughton. "And I think that just goes to show how much this means and how much these guys want to win it."
So does that take some of the fun out of the Roar?
"It does," said Stoughton. "But it's like I've said before -- playing here is going to be fun for one team and that's the winner on Sunday night...
"The rest of the teams, they've put three or four years of blood, sweat and tears into winning this event. And if you don't, then it's going to be disappointment. And if you're not disappointed if you don't win, I don't know what you're playing for."
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Stoughton was also asked for his thoughts on the much-hyped appearance this Sunday of Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy character as a "guest correspondent" for broadcaster TSN.
"I think it will be fun to watch," said Stoughton.
"I think it's great publicity for the game... I think it just brings in more people who don't know what curling is, but know Will Ferrell's character. We're going to get some people who love him who are going to watch this game wondering, 'Why is he doing this?'
"And maybe they'll have some interest in it and keep wanting to watch."
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