Canada's premier curling stars will square off in Winnipeg to determine who represents the nation during the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Some may know the Roar of the Rings as that curling tournament where Will Ferrell will provide color commentary as Ron Burgundy. That's an extraordinary testament deserving of our celebration, but this event hosts more than a man with incredible hair and a thick mustache.
This isn't just a matter of bragging rights throughout Canada. The winner gets an express path to Olympic glory. Canada wins a medal in curling every time. To put it in clearer terms that Brian Fantana can understand, both the men's and women's squads have placed in the top three every year since the sport was reintroduced to the Winter Games in 1998.
So yeah, this is kind of a big deal.
Starting Monday, Dec. 1, eight male and eight female teams will hash it out to determine Canada's Olympic representatives. While Brick Tamland won't kill anyone with a trident, the stakes are enormous during the week of round-robin play.
I'd like to extend to you an invitation to the Roar of the Rings party, which is even better than Brick's pants party.
*A full list of the draws can be viewed on the Roar of the Rings' official site.
Tuesday: Team Brad Jacobs vs. Team Glenn Howard
Great Odin's raven! It won't take much time for the excitement to ensue in Winnipeg.
One of the favorites heading into the tournament, four-time world champion Glenn Howard is looking to add one more first-place finish to his tally. According to the Winnipeg Sun's Paul Friesen, this will be the 51-year-old skip's last opportunity to qualify for the Olympics before he calls it quits.
"It's probably my last year of Trials," Howard said before Sunday's opening draw. "Whether it's my last year of curling, probably not."
Howard's team fell just short last time, losing to Team Kevin Martin in the finals four years ago. In his early tournament experience this year, his team faces a surging Brad Jacobs squad.
Last year, Jacobs' unit surprisingly won the Brier in March. While Jacobs still almost missed the cut, he topped 2006 Olympic gold medalist Brad Gushue in trials to break the final eight.
This early bout will provide a true test for each team looking to climb back into the spotlight.
Wednesday: Team Jennifer Jones vs. Team Rachel Homan
Like Burgundy's apartment, Wednesday's matchup between Team Jennifer Jones and Team Rachel Homan smells of rich mahogany.
While the men's bracket is anyone's guess, Jones and Homan lead the two factions expected to compete for top billing in the Olympics.
Amid a group of veterans close to leaving the rink resides Homan, a 24-year-old poised to dominate the curling scene for years to come. She emerged during the 2013 Scotties, where her team defeated Jones' unit in the finals.
Also victors in the Ontario Championships, this is an extremely talented unit led by one of the sharpest skips in the game.
But Jones would likely have something to say about that. While she is one of the most prominent figures on the women's side, her team faltered during the 2009 trials, leaving much on the line for the 39-year-old's brigade this time around.
This draw won't matter as much as a later bout that will likely occur with much more hanging in the balance, but it will at least provide an entertaining prelude that Burgundy will love more than scotch.
Friday: Team John Morris vs. Team Kevin Martin
In 2010, teammates John Morris and Kevin Martin swept through Vancouver to claim the gold for the home country. Now, they're clashing for the right to defend that sweet throne.
Talk about a glass case of emotion for these newly minted rivals.
After seven years of serving as the team's third, Morris decided to depart for a different unit. Here is what he said during his announcement (via the Canadian Curling Association's Allen Cameron):
“Unfortunately we have had a challenging past few seasons and have not lived up to our expectations of being the best curling team in the world,” said Morris. “As much as we’ve all tried very hard to find a way to fight back and get better, in the end it was obvious that we needed a change. Myself and Kevin were no longer thriving in our back-end role like we did in our 2010 Olympic gold-medal run.
This match could bear significant implications leading up to Saturday's semifinal showdowns, but the tension between two former championship cohorts will create intriguing drama either way.
While no longer together, Morris and Martin figure to play prominently in deciphering which team will vie for the gold in Sochi.
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