By Colin Hodgson
LEDUC, Alta. – A battle of the Kevins is what most experts say. And why not?
With a combined 13 Brier and five world championship appearances and over $160,000 already won this season, it would appear that no one else has a chance.
Only a select few have been crowned Alberta Men’s curling kings in the recent past – Kevin Koe, Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey – but many others have knocked on the door for quite some time. Wiley veterans grind away year after year and, in some cases, for longer than I’ve been alive. Young gunslingers also litter the field with exciting new talent. Real curling fans shouldn’t be surprised to see many shots of the week fired by lesser-known players.
Let me introduce you, real curling fans, to those other guys on the ice at Alberta’s Boston Pizza Cup.
Team Graham Powell – This is a grizzled foursome from the Peace country, and a squad from another generation. Remnants of the good ol’ days of cigars on the ice, colorful conversations and bright blue cardigans would make Hec Gervais proud. Ultra-aggressive play creates an exciting game against even the best of opponents. Stay tuned for many years of this old-school skip at the Alberta men’s Championship.
Team Charley Thomas – This two-time world junior champion skip – the only other skips to accomplish this feat are John Morris and Paul Gowsell) picked up exactly where he left off in 2007. After a four-year hiatus from the curling world, he fills the role of skip for the front three of last year’s provincial finalists – Matt Ng, Dominic Daemon and J.D. Lind. These guys know team camaraderie and know how to win big games, and they’re chasing one of the last Olympic Pre-Trials berths, too.
Team Wade White – Seniors on a mission. Wade certainly proves that grumpy old men have still got it. Never a dull moment with these guys, as the lead, second and skip will also be competing at next week’s Alberta Seniors provincial. Being young at heart does translate out on the curling ice; look in the patch nightly as these guys definitely lead the way in supporting an event.
Team Kurt Balderston – Crafty, experienced, and fierce. Kurt has seen it all when it comes to the Alberta Men’s; 21 times his name has been called out during the opening ceremonies. Yes, you read that right – 21 times. Vowing this is his last kick at the can, Kurt is geared up to go out with a bang.
Team Aaron Sluchinski – The Sluchinski brothers undoubtedly know each other on the ice and off. Playing with each other practically since they started curling, they display a bright array of fireworks that is occasionally reminiscent of Kevin and Shane Park. Making their second appearance here in as many years, the brothers are not shy to crowds or good competition. Aaron was awarded the first All-Star skip award at the 2008 Canadian Juniors and Justin just missed the bauble for third place. Fireworks or not, these guys are talented.
Team Brendan Bottcher – A young talent making quite a splash. 2012 world junior champion, 2012 Canadian university champion, and off to represent Canada again at December’s FISU World Universide. He’s stepped up and won everything in the last two years. Regardless of how his first men’s provincials goes, the future of this team is promising.
Team James Pahl – The definition of wiley veterans. 10 provincials appearances in the bag and one Brier appearance in ’95, with Martin. James navigates ways to provincial championships and always gets into the mix of things. Known in Alberta among players as a clutch shotmaker, he takes a less-new-wave approach to curling, avoiding a rigorous tour schedule and peaking for the playdowns. He’s become an event staple since graduating from juniors in the 90′s.
Team Brent Bawel – Bright and flashy. This team has style and you immediately notice them with their vivid colors on the ice. An up and down season with lineup shuffling has now created a Monster; it seems they’ve found a niche that some new teams never do. Lots of talent, too.
Team Matt Blandford – The newfie with something to prove. This team has winners on it; two world junior champions and multiple Canadian junior appearances result in a potentially scary mix of imports and Alberta-grown talent. Young and ready to prove he can make it here, Blandford only needs to put together a few big shots to make it interesting.
Team Jamie King – Your official Dark Horse. Four back-end players mashed up into a golf-loving, pitcher-crushing, tournament-winning and revolving-lineup machine. With Blake MacDonald, Jeff Erickson and Scott Pfeiffer this team could throw any lineup out there and be competitive with anyone. Their carefree desire to sip on a strawberry daiquiri and hit a pitching wedge from 90 yards out makes them a very dangerous squad.
As history shows – with only three surprise winners in the past 30 years – it is unlikely that an underdog will win here in 2013. But who doesn’t love to cheer for an underdog? Maybe this year will make it four for 31… we’ll will have to wait and see…
[Capital One photo ® by Anil Mungal, click on image to increase viewing size]