Brier Thursday

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Here in Regina, the Brier is throbbing away. Thursday is one of our favourite days: teams battling for that last playoff or tiebreaker spot; knowledable crowds cheering farewell to those out of contention; and the Keith's Patch filling up. Quickly.

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Last night – and this morning – Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton stopped the bleeding, but his pocketbook has been pinched by the CCA, who are citing their Athlete Code of Conduct. More on this $1,000 finehere and here.

Alberta's Kevin Martin just got crushed 7-1 by Nova Scotia's Mark Dacey, and he was damned lucky to beat winless Northern Ontario this morning. Tell you what... this team is hurting just as bad as Manitoba is (was?) in mid-week.

For Pat Simmons (CurlingZone photo from this afternoon) the thrill ride is probably over. 0-4 to start, then suddenly 5-4 with Gap fans screaming madly, Jamie Koe of the Territories finally stopped the wheatsheaf train in its tracks this afternoon. Simmons needs help from two teams tonight, and one of them is winless Rob Gordon, who takes on the surging Dacey.

The Brier is often the scene of great off-ice debates. Here's a Manitoba writer's rebuttal to Edmonton's cries of curling superiority; and the Great Ontario Debate is on again... shall we abolish Northern Ontario at the Brier, or not?

Also off-ice, Team Randy Ferbeyhas departed, amid much support from the fans here in Regina... and Team Brad Gushue is moving in, arriving today and appearing first at a news conference at 11:30am. In that conference, Canada's new 2009 Olympic Trials setup will be announced, but the cat is already out of the bag, courtesy of a leak to ace Calgary Herald and The Curling News scribe Allen Cameron. Here's the scoop:

The new process will put a premium on winning major events, with no reward for finishing second to already-qualified teams. And unlike past Trials, winning a Canadian championship will not guarantee entry into the final qualifying step before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, although it will give teams a major leg up toward forming the Canadian team.

The highlights:

- The men's and women's fields for the 2009 Trials will be reduced to eight teams.

- At the conclusion of the 2008-09 curling season, 16 teams will be eligible for the Trials: the men's and women's winners of three major annual events (Tim Hortons Brier/Tournament of Hearts, Strauss Canada Cup and Ultima World Curling Tour Players' Championships in 2007, '08 and '09), the season-ending men's and women's leaders on the Canadian Team Ranking Systems in '07, '08 and '09 and four more men's and women's teams based on long-term performance on the CTRS.

- Should teams win more than one of those event berths, such as two Briers, the spot in the final 16 would go to the next highest team on the CTRS that hasn't qualified, not the Brier runner-up.

- From those 16-team pools, the four teams that have accumulated the most major event titles will gain direct entry into the 2009 Trials; should no team have won more than one title, the CTRS will decide the four direct entries.

- The remaining 12 teams in the pools will compete in a bonspiel, likely in early November 2009, to decide the final four entries.

The new format will eliminate inequities such as Randy Ferbey's Edmonton team qualifying for the 2005 Tim Hortons Olympic Trials four different ways with victories in two Briers and two Canada Cups, but gaining no advantage over the likes of Jay Peachey, who earned a berth by placing third at the 2004 Brier behind already-qualified Ferbey and Mark Dacey.

The reduction to eight teams will ease scheduling difficulties, and will make television coverage easier, opening the door to having each sheet televised, and possibly available to fans across the country on a pay-per-view basis.

Speaking of the Gushies: this spotlight on Elaine Dagg-Jackson features a neat anecdote about two Gushies “horsing around” the day of Kleibrink’s bronze-medal match... and if you're at the Brier, keep an eye out tonight for Mark Nichols and Jamie Korab, who just might be on site incognito and trying to keep out of the limelight before tomorrow's newser. Look for sunglasses, a jaunty toque (that would be Korab) and above all, no HBC Canada gear.

On Scott Tournament of Hearts Thursday, Amy Nixon told The Curling News (and the National Post) that she doubted Team Kleibrink would be back intact:

We've got four very different people in four different spots in their lives right now. Another four years of this team? I would be surprised.

Now official word is out that Glenys Bakker is off the team, and will be replaced by Calgary skip/third/lead Bronwen Saunders. From another Cameron exclusive, quoting Shannon Kleibrink:

It was a team decision; we're going to miss playing with Glenys, that's for sure, and we're always going to be proud of what this team has done.

And here's Bakker herself:

Obviously, I enjoyed playing with the team, and we had so much success, and that's a hard thing to walk away from. But my family is a priority. It was too much this year; I figured I spent 80-plus days away from home, and with a seventh-month-old, that's very challenging on everybody.

Bakker’s swan song with Team Kleibrink will be the final event of the season, the new women’s BDO Players’ Championship in mid-April. She has no plans to retire but does say she wants

In other news:

The Canuck Juniors are into the world semis... Canada finished the Paralympic wheelchair round-robin in first place at 5-2, and plays a semi on Friday. Here's how Team Leader Wendy Morgan described some recent action:

We had a good game against the States this morning - one that slipped away - we had a chance for 4 in the 2nd and only got one - a real lift for the US - they then took 4 in the 4th and we made a comeback - but it was too little too late.The US was actually booed when they announced the teams in the pregame ceremony this morning - the crowd is very vocal and not always positive - we however have not been on the negative receiving end - wait for tomorrow though when we play Italy!

We had a quick lunch and meeting and then back on the ice to play GBR - what a barn burner - Chris made 2 great shots to get 1 in the 6th to tie the game and Gerry made a FANTASTIC - hit and roll behind cover with his last in the extra end - Chris capped with two perfect guards and we won - what a relief! It was a monkey off our back - Canada has lost to them the last 3 matches, and we may meet again in the playoffs... so good for us.

Here, finally is the first bonafide on-the-scene Canadian media story on the event... or the first we've been able to find, anyway.

And did you know that selected Paralympic events are available free on the web?