Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Upheaval sure to change face of curling in '14

Many big names could be on the move

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KAMLOOPS, B.C. — If Canadian curling had a trading deadline -- and they should, given all the mileage the NHL gets out of its own -- it would be coming up very soon.

And man, would it ever be a doozy. Because with another Olympic quadrennial coming to a close in Sochi last month, there are only three teams in Canada whose lineups are set in stone: The Olympic gold medal-winning rinks skipped by Jennifer Jones and Brad Jacobs, who are both about to turn gold into cold hard cash; and the two-time reigning Canadian champions skipped by Ottawa's Rachel Homan, who are going to dominate the Canadian women's game for a long time to come.

Aside from that, curling's version of musical chairs is about to play out from coast to coast to coast as teams that were put together in the last four years for the purpose of playing in Sochi come apart and get put back together for the purpose of playing in Pyeongchang in 2018.

There is one other important caveat, however.

For the first time ever, the winner at the Tim Hortons Brier on Sunday gets an automatic berth back into next year's Brier as Team Canada. And that could spell the difference between life and death for all but the winning team this weekend.

Consider: Jeff Stoughton third Jon Mead said Friday the odds "are about 60-40" that he will at least semi-retire from curling after this season if playoff-bound Team Manitoba loses this weekend, but almost 100 per cent that he will continue curling with Stoughton next year if they win.

"We'd go back as Team Canada if we win this thing," said Mead, "and that would be a very, very tough thing to walk away from."

Which is, of course, the same scenario John Morris would find himself if his adopted B.C. team wins this weekend. Morris continues to live just outside Calgary, at least unofficially, and it's widely expected he will return to curl again in Alberta next year -- maybe even with his old teammates, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert from Kevin Martin's team -- unless of course he wins as skip of B.C. this weekend.

Ditto for Calgary's Kevin Koe, whose team is also expected to disband unless they win on the weekend. Koe lead -- and the pride of Pilot Mound -- Nolan Thiessen said he has no idea where he will end up when all the smoke settles this spring.

"Who knows? All I know is I would like to play again for the next four years and I'd like it to be on a good team... not a rebuilding project," said Thiessen.

OK, so what about all the other teams not here at the Brier this week? Good question.

Topping that list would be Winnipeg's Mike McEwen, whose team was put together for two purposes -- to represent Canada in Sochi and to represent Manitoba at the Brier.

Neither of those things have happened despite four long years of trying and it's hard to imagine McEwen would want to spend another four years testing the bounds of insanity by continuing to do the same thing but expecting different results.

So?

"Season's not over," McEwen texted Thursday, "and we haven't talked yet."

Then there is reigning Manitoba women's champion -- and Scotties bronze medallist -- Chelsea Carey. While her team performed admirably in their first trip to the Canadian women's curling championship, Carey was noncommital when asked if her team is staying together.

"No final decisions yet," texted Carey. "Stay tuned."

Cathy Overton-Clapham, who spent last winter curling with Calgary's Crystal Webster, said in a text she has "no plans to curl" next winter, other than perhaps as a spare in "a spiel or 2."

Then there are the big names nationally whose futures seem uncertain. Word out of Ontario is Glenn Howard would like to continue playing for at least a couple more years, if not necessarily a complete quadrennial. But whether that will be with his current team -- third Wayne Middaugh, second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill -- remains to be seen.

And then there's the biggest name of all -- Edmonton's Kevin Martin.

The two-time Olympic medallist was dogged by a bad back in a very disappointing 2013-14 season. And, after seeing a former third in Morris defect last spring, he's facing the very real possibility -- if there's any fire behind all the smoke -- that his longtime front end of Kennedy and Hebert will be next to bail on him.

With a couple of tour events still to play this winter -- including a men's Grand Slam next weekend in Fort McMurray, Alta. -- don't expect all the personnel changes to happen the moment the last rock comes to rest in the Brier final Sunday.

But make no mistake, sweeping change is on its way.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 7, 2014 C4

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