EDMONTON -- With only a handful of curling events still remaining to be played this winter -- including the final four days of the Canadian men's curling championship here at Rexall Place -- the field for next December's Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials at the MTS Centre is coming into sharper focus.
While there are still just six teams with their Trials tickets confirmed for Winnipeg, there are another six teams who are now on the verge of clinching their berths into the 16-team Trials, at which eight men's and eight women's teams will compete to determine Canada's curling representatives for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
And the good news for Winnipeg organizers of the Trials is if the event was held today, at least four of the 16 teams competing would be from Manitoba -- Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones, Chelsea Carey, Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen.
Stoughton and Jones, of course, have already clinched their berths, while McEwen has built such a big points lead on the Canadian Team Ranking System that he has effectively clinched. Carey, meanwhile, needs to hold her current ranking through the last couple of events this winter -- most notably the Grand Slam Player's Championship in Toronto next month -- and she also will have her Trials ticket booked.
The other teams who have also all but clinched Trials berths are Edmonton's Kevin Koe -- the 2010 world champion -- and newly installed Canadian women's champion Rachel Homan, whose win at the Scotties in Kingston, Ont., last month has made clinching a Trials berth a mere formality. Finally, there's Ontario's John Epping and Sherry Middaugh, who are both in the same boat as Carey, needing only to maintain their current ranking through the final month of the curling season to earn their Trials spots.
Once the next six teams are confirmed for the Trials at the end of April, that will leave only four final berths -- two men's and two women's -- to be determined at a pre-Trials event in Kitchener, Ont., in early November. And again, there are Manitobans in the running.
Were the pre-Trials to happen tomorrow, Brandon's Rob Fowler and Winnipeg's Barb Spencer would both be among the 12 men's and 12 women's teams in Kitchener competing for those final four Trials spots. (Cathy Overton-Clapham also had a pre-Trials berth, but she will have to forfeit her spot now that her team has broken up.)
Other notable teams with pre-Trials berths confirmed include the last two Olympic women's curling medallists for Canada -- Shannon Kleibrink and Cheryl Bernard; former world champion and native Winnipegger Kelly Scott; and two of the top teams competing at the Brier this week, Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs and Newfoundland's Brad Gushue.
While it is possible either Jacobs or Gushue could still catch Epping for a points-based Trials berth this winter, they would likely have to win Sunday even to have a chance.
Gushue said he's resigned himself to the fact he's almost certainly going to have to earn his Trials berth through the pre-Trials next November if he's going to compete at the MTS Centre for a chance to add a second Olympics to the one he already competed at in Torino.
"I was watching (the CTRS standings) and then we got so far behind that I kind of gave up on it," said Gushue. "We kind of refocused and said, 'You know what -- let's just finish the year off strong and go to the pre-Trials and get through.' "
While there are some who think the teams who win their Trials berths in Kitchener will be on a roll and carry an advantage heading into Winnipeg, Gushue is not among them.
"I would much rather already have a (Trials) spot and be able to prepare for it, be able to train for it and try and peak for that one week," said Gushue.
Canadian Curling Trials
DEC. 1-8, 2013
Who's qualified already?
Kevin Martin (winner of 2011 Canada Cup)
Glenn Howard (CTRS points leader 2011-12)
Jeff Stoughton (winner of 2012 Canada Cup)
Jennifer Jones (winner of 2011 Canada Cup)
Heather Nedohin (CTRS points leader 2011-12)
Stefanie Lawton (winner of 2012 Canada Cup)
Who are the next three teams who would qualify for the Trials if the curling season ended today?
Kevin Koe (CTRS points leader 2012-13)
Mike McEwen (CTRS points leader 2011-13 -- replaces Howard)
John Epping (CTRS points runnerup 2011-13 -- replaces McEwen)
Rachel Homan (CTRS points leader 2012-13)
Sherry Middaugh (CTRS points leader 2011-13 -- replaces Jones)
Chelsea Carey (CTRS points runner-up 2011-13) -- replaces Lawton)
The final two men's and women's Trials berths will be determined at a Pre-Trials competition to be held Nov. 5-10 in Kitchener, Ont. Twelve men's and 12 women's teams will compete in a triple-knockout event. Here are the teams who would compete if the competition was held today:
Brad Gushue *
Brad Jacobs *
Mark Kean *
Rob Fowler *
Jim Cotter *
Steve Laycock *
Greg Balsdon *
Shannon Kleibrink *
Kim Schneider *
Cathy Overton-Clapham **
Crystal Webster *
Laura Crocker *
Renee Sonnenberg *
* -- Clinched pre-Trials berth
** -- Team has broken up, will have to forfeit pre-Trials berth and will be replaced by next eligible team on CTRS