Canadian Open showcases the best in rinks in the world
Jennifer Jones is one non-Olympic skip looking to upset the large group of rinks bound for the Winter Games in South Korea while at the Meridian Canadian Open in Camrose Jan. 16-21. Anil Mungal/Sportsnet
Mike Harris wishes he had the opportunity today's curlers have before he headed to the Winter Olympics in Nagano in 1998.
He and his rink won a silver medal at the games, but they went to Japan with very little warmup before the biggest bonspiel of their life.
Next week there will be 13 rinks with Olympians settling into Camrose for the third major of the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling season, the Meridian Canadian Open.
"We couldn't find any event to play in at all. We had to go over to Europe to play in a smaller cashspiel in Switzerland just to get on the ice," said Harris, now a curling analyst for Sportsnet. "I think particularly the teams that don't play in an arena setting all that often are going to be excited to get their legs under them in a venue that's similar in size to the one in Korea."
The Canadian Open brings together the top 16 men's and the top 16 women's teams in the world, according to the World Curling Tour's order of merit rankings and results this season. Of those 32 rinks, 11 of them have qualified for Winter Olympics in PyeongChang from Feb. 9-25, including Canada's two entries Rachel Homan and Kevin Koe. Also getting their final tune up in next week in Camrose will be Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud, Chang-Min Kim and EunJung Kim of the host nation South Korea, Sweden’s Niklas Edin and Anna Hasselborg, Switzerland’s Peter de Cruz and Silvana Tirinzoni, and John Shuster and Nina Roth of the U.S. This past weekend, two more Canadian Open curlers qualified for the Olympics as John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes (who curls with Jennifer Jones) earned the country's mixed pairs spot.
While most eyes will be glued to Canada's Olympians as well as Edin and Tirinzoni, Harris says all of them have the potential to come out on top at the Canadian Open. At the last Grand Slam stop in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., for the Boost National in November, the little known Olympic hosts, the Chang-Min Kim rink, lost in the final to the Bruce Mouat rink.
"I know for sure the Korean men's team is thrilled to get into the event in Camrose and they're going to use it for a real test for themselves," said Harris. "They know when they go in front of their home crowd they'll certainly be real noisy for them."
As the top 32 rinks in the world at the Canadian Open, Harris says there are many other team that can potentially come out on top, including the Mouat rink, a young, up-and-coming rink from Scotland.
On the women's side alone, the Jennifer Jones rink is looking for the first-ever women's Tiger-slam – to hold all four grand slam titles at the same time – and currently leads the WCT order of merit standings. Alberta's Val Sweeting should also be in the running at the Canadian Open and as well as Casey Scheidegger.
On the men's side, reigning Canadian Open champ Brad Gushue will be a major factor as will Brad Jacobs and Mike McEwen.
"For a couple of teams there's going to be some disappointment after not winning the (Olympic) trials and quite a few of the players will have also been through the mixed doubles as well," said Harris. "Slams have become such an important part of the year for these teams that when they're winning it's a big accomplishment."
This will be the sixth high-level event the Rose City Curling Club has hosted in Encana Arena, but will be the biggest one they have hosted to date. The setup inside the arena provides a completely different experience than anything they could create in the club. Everything is different from the atmosphere to the increased swing in the ice.
"You see these shots being called that ... you just can't make in most club settings, the ice is that much different," said Harris. "It's fun for the players and it certainly is conducive to making all of the shots."