The absence of a men’s zone playdowns last month has opened the doors for two local rinks to make a run at one of three provincial berths up for grabs at the 16-rink district playdowns, which get underway Thursday morning in Atikokan.
Lorne Jackson and Mike Kjerulf will be leading their Fort Frances rinks into battle after only six rinks from the west area threw their names into the hat—thus nullifying any zone playdowns.
Raymond Roy, a local perennial favourite, and Tom Fry decided not to enter rinks this year.
“It’s disappointing [there were no zones],” remarked Jackson. “That would have been an extra four or five competitive games we could have had under our belt.”
Local club icemaker Kevin Busch, who plays third for Kjerulf, said their rink is jumping at the chance to play at this level.
“A lot of those guys have a lot of experience at that level. It’ll be a challenge,” said the 34-year-old Busch, who originally organized the rink of lead Cory Labbe and second Ed Vold that went 2-2 at last year’s zone playdowns—their first appearance as a foursome.
“[But] we like it. Our intention is to get some good games in,” he added.
Busch realizes they’ll be in for a tough battle against the likes of former world champ Al Hackner and previous provincial champ Bruce Melville, but he’s confident they can make the first cut Friday night when the bottom eight rinks will be eliminated.
“If we can make top eight, we’d be happy. We have to be really hot. Have a hot, consistent weekend to go further,” Busch said, adding the rink is relishing their “underdog” title heading to the Little Falls Curling Club in Atikokan.
Meanwhile, Jackson’s rink, which bowed out in the semi-finals of last year’s district playdowns, is back with new third Don DeBenedet (who skipped at the zones last year) after regular Dave Hughes opted not to compete in playdowns this year.
Second Derek Jackson and lead Wayne Beacham are back again this year.
Jackson admitted his rink hasn’t had the same amount of high-level experience the Thunder Bay ones saw in their curling leagues so far this season. But the foursome did finish fourth at a cash ’spiel in November and their confidence is pretty high.
“I think we’ll do very well this year. I’m very confident of our chances,” said Jackson, 35. “I think provincials is a very realistic goal.”
Also competing in Atikokan will be Cam McMillan (Dryden), Ron Rosengren (Fort William), David Foulds (Red Rock), Dennis Malette (Port Arthur), Lauchie Meagher (Manitouwadge), Ken Kozmenski (Dryden), Murray Affleck (Kenora), Ken Anderson (Red Lake), Bobby Morgan (White River), John Salo (Fort William), and Blake Ponton (Dryden).
The rinks will compete in a triple knockout the first two days, followed by a modified double-knockout among the top eight starting Saturday.
The top three advance to the provincials Feb. 12-16 in Kapuskasing.
“I like the format. It gives you a chance to get a feel for the ice,” Busch said, who believes the best approach is to rely on your own game because the field will look to bring its best stuff.
“You can’t hope for any team to miss at that level,” he reasoned. “It happens, but you can’t call your game with that in mind.
“Every game is different.”
Jackson likes the fact none of the rinks curl regularly at Little Falls.
“Whoever adjusts the quickest to the ice surface will have the most success,” he predicted.