Wholesale changes coming for Viterra, Scotties as COVID-19 alters provincial curling championships

Team Gunnlaugson defeats Team McEwen 7-4 to become Manitoba's 96th provincial champion. The winners will represent Manitoba at the Brier in Kingston, Ont., on Feb. 28, 2020. Christian Aumell

With the ongoing pandemic and the ensuing health restrictions in Manitoba, big changes are coming for next year’s provincial curling championships.

“I’m not sure if we have enough time for all the changes,” Curl Manitoba executive director Craig Baker said.

COVID-19 is forcing Curl Manitoba to make wholesale changes to its annual provincials. The biggest adjustment will see both the Viterra Championship and the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts held at the same time, in the same building, and with a lot fewer teams.

The Selkirk Recreation Complex will play host to both the men’s and women’s provincials from Feb. 2 to 7, 2021.

“There’s been significant changes,” Baker said. “Whether or not it was the best route to go, but what it came down — it was a timing thing. For us, we looked at when the Scotties were supposed to be and every week we get a little bit closer to that point.

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“If we’re going to host the provincials, we want to try to host our regionals as well so we can try to have regional representation at our provincials, so it can still be a legit provincials.”

Both fields have been cut significantly. The usual 32-team field for the Viterra will be just 16 teams in 2021, while the provincial Scotties will have only eight teams on the ice.

“Those numbers — when we looked at doing it, Selkirk, fortunately, has a really large facility,” said Baker. “So it became one that has a lot of space, that we can create a lot of space in.”

Six of the men’s berths are already secured, while four spots in the women’s provincials are already spoken for.

The Viterra Championship will remain a double knockout event, while the Scotties will be a full round robin. And having two major competitions in one rink simultaneously will be a bit of a logistical nightmare.

“It’s doable,” Baker said. “We’re creating draws as we speak, multiple draws. It’s about time. It’s about lots of time in between draws for cleaning of field of play and everything, and health. So we’re expanding even time in between draws. So it’s definitely a doable thing.”

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And Curl Manitoba already has contingency plans in place in case restrictions prevent a full event from being staged. They’re prepared to hold provincials with as few as four teams, and if that can’t be played, a team will still represent Manitoba at nationals.

As the defending Viterra champion, Jason Gunnlaugson would get a return trip to the Brier if the provincials can’t be held, while Jennifer Jones would rep the buffalo at the national Scotties as last year’s runner-up. Last year’s Manitoba champ Kerri Einarson already has a berth as the defending champ.

“This isn’t unique to Manitoba,” said Baker. “It was definitely voted on by the board of directors, so it was not something one person decided, but it was multiple conversations and multiple discussions.”

Curl Manitoba is also adopting the new pandemic curling rules for provincials that were introduced at the start of the season. Teams can only use one sweeper, and skips can’t sweep opposing rocks in the house.

They are also only using four sheets of ice instead of the usual five for men’s provincials to create more walkways to allow more space between curlers.

Teams qualified for Viterra Championship

  1. Jason Gunnlaugson
  2. Mike McEwen
  3. Braden Calvert
  4. Ryan Wiebe
  5. Jordon McDonald
  6. Tanner Horgan

Teams qualified for Manitoba Scotties

  1. Jennifer Jones
  2. Tracy Fleury
  3. Darcy Robertson
  4. Mackenzie Zacharias

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