There’s a subtle class system at the Canadian men’s curling championship.
There are the three men’s teams that already have an Olympic trials berth, and the others scrambling to join them.
The trials that will determine Canada’s men’s and women’s curling teams at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, are scheduled for Dec. 1-8 in Winnipeg. Eight men’s and eight women’s teams will vie for the right to wear the Maple Leaf in Sochi.
Alberta’s Kevin Martin, the reigning Olympic men’s champion, Ontario’s Glenn Howard and Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton, who are coincidentally the favourites to win the Tim Hortons Brier this week, have their trials berths locked down.
On the women’s side, Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones, Alberta’s Heather Nedohin and Saskatchewan’s Stephanie Lawton have filled three trials spots.
Three more men’s and three more women’s teams will be determined by May 1, which puts pressure over the final weeks of this season on teams with Olympic aspirations.
The remaining four - two men’s and two women’s teams - will come out of a November pre-trials event in Kitchener, Ont.
Stoughton punched his direct ticket to trials by winning the Canada Cup in December. The Winnipeg skip says it felt like a burden lifted.
“We had talked over the summer that our No. 1 goal was to get to the trials as soon as possible,” Stoughton said. “It was a great feeling to be able to pull something off like that and a huge relief when it was done.
“It took some of the pressure off where we could just try and perform. Once we got the trials spot, we re-jigged our goals for the rest of the year.”
There isn’t a short explanation on how teams get to trials and pre-trials. The Canadian Curling Association’s website lays it out and even has a section on who would be in and who would be out if the trials and pre-trials started today.
The best way to put it is the winners of curling’s major events between the start of 2011 and the end of April either have a trials berth locked up or are positioned to claim one.
Teams accumulate points from their results at World Curling Tour events and provincial, national and world championships and are then ranked in the CCA’s Canadian Team Ranking System. Howard’s team, for example, topped the CTRS in 2011-2012 to get into trials.
Howard won both the Canadian and world titles last year, which contributed big points to his total.
“Obviously the long-term goal the last three years is get yourself to the Olympic trials,” the Ontario skip said. “As soon as you get your spot in the trials, that’s as far as you can go in that process and we did that at the end of the last year. That’s done.”
For other teams, however, the chase for points is still on. Not all teams jockeying for trials spots made it to the Brier, so the even the 20 points for fourth place are points another team isn’t getting.
Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen, Calgary’s Kevin Koe and Toronto’s John Epping didn’t win their provincials to get to the Brier, but are closing in on trials spots if they can maintain their rankings. This year’s Canadian women’s curling champion Rachel Homan of Ottawa could grab a women’s berth as well.
Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs and Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador appear bound for pre-trials in Kitchener, unless they catch fire and win enough in the next seven weeks to join Martin, Howard and Stoughton.
“We have to finish the season off great. It’s a longshot,” Jacobs said. “We’re fine with curling and going through the pre-trials. There’s a lot to be said for curling and taking some momentum from the pre-trials into the trials if we have to play in it.”
Twelve men’s teams and a dozen women’s go to Kitchener with the top two in each the last to join the trials field.
Gushue, who won the 2005 trials and went onto win Olympic gold in 2006 in Turin, Italy, sees not clinching a trials berth this season is a major disadvantage in getting to Sochi.
“For us, if we don’t get that spot, we have to build our year for pre-trials and then try and peak there and try and peak again a couple weeks later for the trials. That’s difficult,” he said. “If you get directly in, you just focus on that one week in December and put all your eggs in that basket.
“We may not have that luxury.”