The province of British Columbia will be well represented at the Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge this week, with 10 teams being led by local skips.
The event will feature 60 teams — 30 mens and 30 women’s — that will be competing in two tiers of competition in a system that determines placement by accumulation of points.
Jim Cotter, who curls out of the Vernon, will be competing in the top tier as the fourth, while Olympic gold medallist John Morris out of Alberta, will skip.
Cotter, who formerly skipped before teaming up with Morris in 2013 and this current season, has made six appearances at the Tim Horton’s Brier, the men’s national championship.
Last year, Cotter won the Tier 2 title at the Tour Challenge event in Paradise, Newfoundland.
While the Cotter rink is the lone B.C. representation in Tier 1, there are five mens teams and four women’s teams in Tier 2 who curl out of Canada’s westernmost province.
Sean Geall, who curls out of Vancouver, is eager to get down to business with his teammates.
“We don’t get to spend a lot of time together because they live in Kelowna and I’m in Vancouver, but it’s been a slow start to the year for us,” Geall said. “We’ve done some work and we’re excited to get going.”
The field is pretty outstanding as well, given that four-time world champion Glenn Howard and Jean-Michel Menard, who has represented Quebec 10 times at the Brier, lead the pack.
“I haven’t had a good look, but obviously all these guys are pretty good, every game is going to be tough and when you get premier ice conditions like this, there are going to be shots made,” Geall said.
Both the Memorial Arena and Western Financial Place have been converted to hosting five sheets of curling ice, and conditions are looking good, according to Geall.
“Lots of curl and keen, so that’s about all you can really ask for,” Geall said.
Dean Joanisse, who comes to Cranbrook out of Maple Ridge, has made two appearances at the Brier in 2001 and 2007 and is also pumped about getting into the competition.
“We’re looking forward to it, it’s a big event for a lot of the BC teams; there will be lots of points available for getting a berth in our provincials,” Joanisse said.
When it comes to taking on the field, Joanisse says it’s important to focus on his team’s own play first.
“Certainly, once you realize who you’re playing, you might have a big of a game plan against them, but you gotta understand what you’re doing yourselves first and put that at the front,” he said.
Rounding out the B.C. mens teams includes Tyler Tardi, who skips a team with his brother, Jordan, along with Sterling Middleton and Nicholas Meister. They captured the 2016 Junior Men’s championship and earned a bronze at the Canadian Junior Men’s Championship.
Also in the field is Andrew Bilesky, who curls out of New Westminster. He won the provincial championship in 2013 to represent B.C. at the Brier and also captured the top prize at a Kelowna cash spiel in 2011.
Stephen Schneider is a three-time Canadian Gay Curling Champion, while his third, Jamie Sexton, represented B.C. at the 1987 Brier, and finished in second place, behind Russ Howard. Schneider and Sexton are joined by Shawn Eklund and Brant Amos.
Representing B.C. from the women’s side of the Tier 2 division includes Vancouver’s Diane Gushulak and her team of Grace MacInnes, Jesse Sanderson and Sandra Comadina. Gushulak has been to the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the women’s national championship three times, once representing Ontario, and twice representing B.C.
Marla Mallett has had a strong season, winning a Prestige Hotels and Resorts Curling Classic cash spiel out of Vernon. Mallett, who has been to the Scotties three times, curls with Shannon Aleksic, Brette Richards and Blaine DeJager.
Corryn Brown skips a team out of Kamloops and is a former national junior curling champion from 2013, and curls alongside Marika Van Osch, Dezaray Hawes and Samantha Fisher.
Karla Thompson won the national junior title with Brown but now skips her own team with Kristen Recksiedler, Erin Pincott and Trysta Vandale. Thompson is also the reigning provincial champion, having represented B.C. at the Scotties last year.