Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Still room for dreamers

Despite game's inevitabilities, pups continue to face big dogs

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NEEPAWA -- It's a quaint notion that you want to believe is still true -- the lingering idea that any team of curlers with four sliders, a dream and a bit of luck can go on to win the province and represent Manitoba in the Brier.

The whole idea of it appeals to the underdog mentality that permeates a province and a people who exist despite an impossible climate.

And there was a time when it was true that a group of good friends with a modicum of curling talent could get hot for a couple of weekends in the winter and before they knew it, they were being fitted for jackets with a purple heart on the front and a bison on the back.

But those days disappeared around about the same time as they outlawed smoking on the ice and the odds that unknowns will win the province at the Manitoba men's curling championship this week are about the same as the odds you'll get away with firing up a smoke in a public place.

Not since Brent Scales stunned Jeff Stoughton in the 2004 Manitoba men's final -- still the only time Stoughton has lost in 10 trips to the provincial final -- has something approximating a team of unknowns won Manitoba.

(You could make the case that Randy Dutiaume's win in 2005 was also a win for some unknowns, but those guys were legit and they proved it at the Brier by finishing second in the round robin behind only Alberta juggernaut Randy Ferbey).

Indeed, take away the Scales win -- and wins by John Bubbs and Mark Lukowich in 2003 and 2002 when the top teams in Manitoba were boycotting the provincials -- and you have to go back all the way to 1990 when Deloraine's Duane Edwards won to find a team of unknowns representing Manitoba at the Brier.

In between, it's been nothing but titles for the teams everyone now expects to win -- the ones who invest the time and money to travel the country all winter long and play the world's very best on the World Curling Tour. Consider:

Since Edwards won in 1990, Stoughton has won nine times, Vic Peters and Kerry Burntyk each won three times and there were also single titles for Dave Smith, Dale Duguid and, last year, Rob Fowler.

It's all become so predictable, you wonder why they play the first couple of days of this event at all.

Consider: On opening day Wednesday, all of the top eight seeds were winners.

And so it begs the question: Why do the rest still do it when the results have become almost preordained? Why do teams that have effectively no chance whatsoever to win a provincial title this week still continue every year to invest their time and money to travel to the Safeway Championship and get drilled?

For starters, it's not because they're naive. "We're realistic. We know we're not going to win this thing," said Thompson skip Grant Brown, who got thumped 8-2 in just six ends by Fowler Wednesday afternoon in what was Brown's provincials debut as a skip.

"We're happy to be here. We'd like to win maybe one, maybe even two games. And maybe put a scare into some teams."

And then there are guys like Rene Kolly. As the 32nd and final seed in this event, Kolly's reward was to draw none other than top seed Stoughton as his first opponent. The result -- 9-2 for Stoughton in seven ends -- was completely predictable but Kolly, a plumber from Notre Dame, said he had no regrets about what he says is an increasingly rare opportunity in curling.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "It's the only chance a team like mine gets to play these guys anymore. None of these top guys play in the MCA (Bonspiel) anymore, so this is the only opportunity left to play some of these quality teams."

Of course, the flip side of getting to play in a provincial championship is it can get ugly very quickly, as Deloraine's Blair Goethals learned in a nightmarish 11-2 loss to Sean Grassie Wednesday afternoon that saw his team fall behind 8-0 after just three ends.

"I don't mind losing if it's a really good game," said Goethals, a 47-year-old grain farmer whose curling season is sharply abbreviated by his occupation. "But losing like that -- it's disheartening."

But where there's hope, there's reason to dream. And for all the scrubs getting drummed at this thing, there's still the occasional minor upset to give everyone a sliver of hope.

The biggest upset of Wednesday was authored by the young foursome skipped by 23-year-old University of Manitoba student Steen Sigurdson, whose 20th-seeded team knocked off 13th seed -- as well as former Canadian seniors champion and hometown favourite -- Kelly Robertson 7-6 on the 12:15 p.m. draw.

Sigurdson said his team doesn't expect to win it all this week -- but they haven't closed the door entirely yet either.

"We'd like to try and win a few games," said Sigurdson. "And if we can do that, then maybe we can set a new goal."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2013 D3

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