World Men's Curling Championship slides into Edmonton

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World Men's Curling Championship slides into Edmonton

Edmonton sports fans are ready to hurry hard into the NHL playoffs with hopes the Oilers will sweep through the first round.

But before that, there's some sweeping to be done at another major sporting event in the city.

The World Men's Curling Championship gets underway Saturday at Northlands and curling fans will be glued to it.

"A lot of interest on this event, being that it's for a world championship," Curling Canada communications director Al Cameron said Wednesday.

"Also has a lot of ramifications for the 2018 Winter Olympics, as well, because it will determine most of the countries that will be competing for gold in Pyeongchang [South Korea]." 

Canada is of course a favourite, especially given the championship is being played on home ice.

"In the wake of Brad Gushue's exciting win at the Tim Hortons Brier in St. John's, in his hometown earlier this month, there's a lot of attention on this event," said Cameron, who thinks other teams will be gunning for Canada.

"Wearing the Maple Leaf at a world championship, particularly on home ice, it might as well be a bull's-eye on your back because every other team — there's 11 other teams that will be competing there — and every one of them will be wanting to be the one that takes down Canada on their home ice."

Fortunately Gushue is no stranger to that kind of pressure.

"[He] won the Olympic gold medal in 2006 and has been the No. 1 team in the country, and therefore in the world, during this season," said Cameron.

But he admitted the Canadians will face some tough competition from Sweden, Scotland and the United States.

That challenge means a lot of eyes will be on the ice — and the city.

"Edmonton is going to be getting a lot of exposure over the next 10 days across the country, but also around the world," said Cameron, who adds the event provides a major boost to the local economy.

"Millions of dollars in terms of economic development ... comes from hosting events like this. I believe the Ford World Men's is somewhere in the range of $6- to $10 million in economic activity."

'Last hurrah' for Northlands curling

This year will be special as it will likely be the last major curling event held at Northlands Coliseum before Rogers Place is expected to take over.

Cameron describes Northlands as a great arena.

"When I say that is an historic arena, it is," said Cameron. 

"It holds the attendance record, not only for the Tim Hortons Brier, but it also holds it for the Ford World Men's Championship, that was set in 2007, as well as the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings, which is our Olympic curling trials and that was set there in 2009.

"So no other building in the world can say that about its curling events." 

Past champions who won in Northlands will be saluted throughout the week in a celebration dubbed "The Last Hurrah."

In addition to some rolling rocks, there will also be some rock and roll with live bands every night at The Patch, which is the place to party and mingle with the athletes. It's next door to the Coliseum at the Edmonton EXPO Centre.

Of course none of this is possible without good ice. That's where chief ice technician Jamie Bourassa comes in.

"That's what it's all about, right?" said Bourassa. "We have to have it as good as we can get it so they can be as good as they can be."

Consistent ice is nice

On Wednesday the lines were painted and workers were flooding the sheets for what they hope will be the last time before the curlers take to the ice.

"We want to get it as level as we can and try and maintain it and once we get going, the big thing is consistency," said Bourassa who knows a thing or two about curling ice despite his modesty.

"This is year 40 for me in making curling ice and I've been doing events for 20 years now or more."

That includes making and taking care of the ice at the last Brier.

But don't expect to hear stories of Bourassa hiding a loonie or toonie somewhere as has been the case at the Olympics.

"We're ice makers, we don't make enough. If we do that someone will steal it."

Fans looking to save a loonie or two will be happy to hear there's free admission to the opening ceremonies at 12 p.m. Saturday.

The first draw, which includes a match-up between Canada and Switzerland, gets underway at 2 p.m.

The gold medal game will be played on Sunday, April 9 at 6 p.m.