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Rinks seek smooth track to provincials

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It will take the surest of shooters to survive a first-class field at the Northwestern Ontario regional men’s curling playdowns in Kenora this weekend.

The competition includes three provincial finalists from last year in Al Hackner (Thunder Bay Country Club), Ron Rosengren (Fort William Curling Club), and Lorne Jackson (Fort Frances Curling Club).

Jackson, Raymond Roy of Fort Frances, and Craig Armstrong of Stratton will skip their respective teams at this weekend’s event in hopes of being one of the three that advance to the provincials Feb. 3-9 at the Port Arthur Curling Club in Thunder Bay.

After last year’s appearance, Jackson is hungry to return to the big dance in an effort to qualify for this year’s Brier in Halifax the first week of March.

No offence to his local club but in Jackson’s mind, anywhere is preferable to his usual surroundings.

“It’s tough to get up for the game at home,” Jackson said about qualifying at the open zone bonspiel here three weeks ago along with third Don DeBenedet, second Derek Jackson, and lead Wayne Beacham.

“Last year was this group’s first year together,” he noted. “This year, things are really clicking better. We know each other now, and we’re confident with how we’re playing.”

Proof of Jackson’s claim was his team’s victory at the Home Hardware cashspiel at the Fort William Curling Club back in November.

“This is a good all-around team,” he stressed. “We can adapt to any type of game that’s being played.”

Meanwhile, Roy and his team of third Tim Nordin, second Bill Carroll, and lead John Commine have had their tickets to Kenora punched since early December, when they won the district zone playdowns.

Roy said he’s been focusing on getting his personal game on track.

“I definitely have to get better at the finesse game,” he admitted. “The draws, the come arounds, the tap backs . . . the rest of the team is fine, but I’ve got to pick it up.”

The extra practice time to get ready for the regionals is something Roy feels will give his team a needed edge.

“We’ve each got a chance to get some practice in individually, as well as a group, so I think that definitely puts us at an advantage,” he said.

Armstrong, who along with third Bryan Bonot, second Terry Lee, and lead Mark Loney, also qualified at the playdowns here.

This will be new territory for the skip, but he likes his rink’s chances.

“It’s possible,” Armstrong ventured. “We haven’t really played at this level before, and there’s a lot of teams that will be there that we haven’t seen before.

“But we believe we’re not out of any game, and can usually come back,” he added. “We just have to make sure we have consistency and not give up any big ends.”

Sixteen rinks are competing in Kenora, with a triple knock-out format to eliminate eight teams, who then will vie in a double knock-out format to determine which three advance to the provincials.

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