Stick curling is on display next weekend at the provincial open championships in St. Albert.
Twenty-four two-person teams of any combination of gender are competing to represent Alberta at the 2020 nationals.
The majority of the stick players have ties to the St. Albert and Morinville curling scene.
“It’s exciting. We’ve got some very competitive curlers in both clubs,” said Randy Olson, president of the Alberta Stick Curling Association.
Teams from Grande Prairie, Stony Plain and Ellerslie are also entered.
“Ideally we would like to get representation from around Alberta for sure, but we get quite a good turnout here in northern Alberta and they end up filling those spots,” Olson said.
The list of teams includes wheelchair curlers.
“It’s great to have them participating in the event,” Olson said.
Two-person stick curling consists of one-hour six-end games with six rocks per team per end. One member of each team stays at each end of the ice and the two delivering curlers alternate six stones each per end as their teammates skip that end and then the roles are reversed.
Each stone must be delivered with a curling stick from a standing position or in a wheelchair.
“It’s a very quick game. There is really very little sweeping involved. You’re not allowed to sweep between the hog lines so it's just throw the rocks up and down the ice,” said Olson, noting some instructors are teaching youths to deliver a rock with a stick before attempting to throw from the hack.
“They actually see what happens with the rock when it goes down to the end and then they move on to regular delivery,” Olson said.
The fourth annual open provincials is different from the Alberta Sturling Championships that started in 2004.
“It’s basically the same rules except the one minor difference in Sturling is that it allows you to actually throw from the hack as well as just using the stick. You can have somebody that’s a stick curler for one partner and a regular curler for the other partner or both can be regular curlers to play the two-person game,” Olson said.
The inaugural open stick provincials debut in 2017 in St. Albert with Tony Van Brabant and Scott Holland of Morinville winning the Alberta Stick Curling Championship trophy sponsored by Milt and June McDougall of St. Albert.
Milt McDougall and Bob McKenzie of St. Albert captured the Sturling championship in 2014 at Wetaskiwin.
Ryan Meyer and Dennis Fitzgerald of Morinville teamed up to win the 2018 open provincials at Ellerslie with a 3-2 score in an extra end against Olson and his wife, Ruby.
Meyer and Fitzgerald were the 2014 national finalists when it was staged in St. Albert, the site also for the 2018 Canadian championship.
Last year at the Granite, the Olsons needed an extra end for the 3-2 decision against Meyers and Ervin Yaremko of Morinville.
All the former champions from Morinville are among the teams to beat at provincials while the Olsons have home-ice advantage at the St. Albert Curling Club.
“Obviously, it’s a lot of pressure,” Olson said of repeating.
The Olsons are also among the 48 teams confirmed for the April 6 to 9 nationals at Highland Curling Club in Regina.
Olson is a delegate at the national level and is in charge of the tournament’s website.
At nationals, spots are reserved for the provincial championships across Canada and the rest are available through a registration process.
There is also a 12-team women's division at nationals.
Last year at nationals in Cornwall, P.E.I., the Olsons tied for second in their pool and missed out in qualifying for the championship bracket by a draw to the button as the top two teams in each pool advanced.
Provincials consist of four pools of six teams each to determine the qualifiers in the eight-team championship and 16-team consolation brackets.
Pool play starts 9 a.m. Friday and the last draw in the round robin is 11 a.m. Saturday.
The playoffs begin at 2:30 p.m. Saturday (consolation) and 10 a.m. Sunday (championship).
The finals are 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Visit albertastickcurling.ca for draw times and results.