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Whether you are a first-timer or a multi-timer, it has been unanimous.
There’s no event, no competition, no experience quite like it in all of curling, in Canada or anywhere else in the world where throwing rocks at houses while wielding brooms on pebbled ice is embraced as sport.
It’s the Home Hardware Canada Cup and it happens once every four years with the top seven teams in the greatest curling nation in the world, with the winner claiming the first spot in the Tim Horton’s Roar of the Rings Olympic Trials and, finally this year, big money to go with it.
It’s excruciating. It’s exasperating. It’s exhausting. It’s exciting. It’s entertaining. It’s everything a sports event should be from start to finish.
But don’t take it from me. Take it from the skips as they stepped off the ice at Friday’s final day of the round robin to send three teams in men’s and women’s play through to the playoffs with a chance to win the magic ticket to the Trials, which ended up with three of four teams becoming Olympians from the previous 2011 and 2015 editions.
Maybe it was heading into the final draw Friday at 4-1 and guaranteed to play this weekend, but Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher said it doesn’t get any better than this.
“It’s tough. It would be tough playing these teams spread out in a Brier where you get other games in the middle, never mind having to play them all back to back to back like we do here. But I love it.
“It doesn’t take any of the fun out of it. Not at all. This is the blast. If you’re not up for playing the big teams, there’s something wrong. This is great. It’s the best curling event in the world.”
Toronto’s John Epping, who also went into the final draw at 4-1 and clear to the playoffs, raved about the experience so far.
“It’s a continual grind. Every game. Every shot. This field is just so good. It’s the best field in the world. This is the kind of event you want to play in. You want to play in events with the crowd, the ice and the atmosphere,” he said.
Cheryl Bernard, who came down from the TSN broadcast booth to replace Casey Scheidegger for the week after the Lethbridge skip gave birth to a second son Monday, maybe made the ultimate statement about what this event has become.
“This should be the Scotties, in all honesty,” said the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games silver-medal winner, who won her first two games but couldn’t get the team to the weekend where she’ll return to the booth with Vic Rauter and Russ Howard.
For Glenn Howard, a four-time Brier-winner and four-time world champion, at age 57, this was probably his last one.
“It’s super intense. You have the best teams in the world here. You have to bring your A game every time. The prize, the first spot in the Olympic Trials, is a big, big carrot, something worth shooting for. And it’s a huge chunk of money, too” he said of the $40,000 to the winner.
Brad Gushue said one thing that isn’t much mentioned because of the first Olympic Trials spot involved, is the dramatically increased prize money. Four years ago, it was $14,000 to win. Now it’s not only $40,000, but $25,000 for second and $15,000 for third.
“I think it’s even better this year now that the prize has gone up,” said the 2006 Olympic gold-medal winner. “Here’s to Curling Canada for that because it is such a grind having to play the back-to-backs at 10 ends. So this year, with the Trials spot and the purse increase certainly the prestige of the thing has even managed to go up. This is as tough of competition as you are going to face.
“This is like the Olympic Trials are going to be with many of the same teams and being out on the ice for eight or 10 hours. They put us through the gauntlet here. If you can get through this, you can get through the Trials.”
Four years ago, both Rachael Homan and Kevin Koe won this thing to claim the first ticket in the Roar of the Rings, and went on to cash that ticket for a trip to the Olympics in South Korea.
“It’s similar to the Olympic Trials, except it’s probably harder. It’s so packed in,” said Koe.
“You don’t get a lot of breaks between games like you do at the Trials. So it’s one of the toughest, if not the toughest.”
Even the two young teams skipped by Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone and Robin Silvernagel, who crashed and burned here this week, leave raving about the experience.
“It’s a special event because of the quality involved and the prize involved,” said Dunstone of who couldn’t win for losing in his first exposure to it. “Obviously, it’s the best curling in the world that you are going to see and the Trials and we just saw it up close and personal.”
On Twitter: @ByTerryJones
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