Kevin Martin doesn't often get anxious on the curling ice. As one of the most skilled competitors in the game's history, there's not much he hasn't seen before.
But the Olympic gold medalist's stomach has been churning a bit lately ahead of the TSN Curling Skins Game this weekend. That's because the opponent in his first contest is his Olympic teammate Cheryl Bernard, who will try for the upset in the made-for-television, high-stakes shootout being held at Casino Rama, near Orillia, Ont.
"Really she only has to make one shot and that's what makes me nervous," Martin admitted with a chuckle. "I've had lots of phone messages and texts from guys giving me the business."
"We have nothing to lose," countered Bernard. "The pressure's all on him."
There is so much in the way of bragging rights on this game that Martin even refused to help Bernard out at the Continental Cup last week when the two were teammates and Skins was part of the format.
"I came up to him last week and asked him what the secret to Skins curling was," Bernard said. "He said 'The hell I'm telling you.' "
The comment, which came over a couple of Scotches, was in jest but you can be certain once both teams take to the ice Saturday evening, there won't be any punches pulled. There is $100,000 in prize money to be won and the game isn't over until the final rock.
Skins curling awards money for each end won, with the team earning the most cash winning the game. To win an end, a rink must take two or steal a point. Anything else results in a carryover. The money per end also increases as the game goes on, meaning a team could lose the first six ends, get a carryover in the seventh, capture the final end and win the game.
And that's what has Martin worried, if only slightly.
"The biggest advantage Cheryl has over most women's teams is that she loves to throw the raise-backs and that's what Skins is all about," he commented. "It can come down to one shot."
Bernard is equally in awe of Martin's rink.
"I love Skins," she said, "but not versus Martin. We're going to have to play 90-per-cent-plus and hope for a break if we want to win."
Women's teams have never fared very well when taking on men's rinks in curling competitions. At the Skins in 2009, Glenn Howard handled Jennifer Jones with relative ease in the only other male-versus.-female contest at the made-for-TV competition.
Perhaps the highest-profile game between men and women came in 1986 and involved Ed Werenich and Marilyn Bodogh. While the two media darling skips generated plenty of pregame hype, the match was anticlimactic with Werenich hammering Bodogh.
Bernard said the difficulty of taking on a men's rink is their ability to throw big weight and move rocks around, especially when they get in trouble. Women just aren't physically able to match that. She added that their sweeping can make a huge difference, especially when the brooms are in the hands of players such as Martin front end Ben Hebert and Marc Kennedy, whom she called the best in the business.
This is the fourth time the TSN Curling Skins Game been contested at Casino Rama, which adds to the uniqueness of the event. Noted icemaker Hans Wuthrich has been flown in from his home in Gimli, Man., and is in charge of creating a sheet of curling ice on the floor of the facility's entertainment centre, a venue that usually plays host to musical or comedy acts.
"The biggest thing about this event is the venue," Martin said. "You're playing on a cement floor in front of a big crowd at a casino. People are already there to have fun so there's a good atmosphere."
The winner of the match between Martin and Bernard will take on either reigning Brier champion Kevin Koe or Skins defending champ David Murdoch, who meet in their contest Saturday afternoon.
The curling column by Bob Weeks is published on Thursdays.
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