The World Men's Curling Championship kicks off tomorrow at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
Now just a little bit of info about the arena, Ralph went to Las Vegas to work, he ended up owning most of it and spent some of his millions building this arena. It is huge, the lifts alone would comforatbly house a family of four. The floors are marble, and all the seats are leather. As well as the arena there's a smaller ice pad, currently the Broken Broom lounge, you know the eating, drinking, meeting place. And the size of this arena you need a fixed meeting spot.
But enough of the arena, what about the teams?
There are some well known teams here with a track record and some unknowns. Kevin Martin's Canadian team went through the Brier undefeated, but Kevin may have a weak spot, he's got World and Olympic silver medals, he's never quite managed to win the final games at international level.
Team Scotland must be up with the favourites, David Murdoch, Graeme Connal, Peter Smith and Euan Byers won the European Championships in December and between them they have handfuls of World gold medals. If they play as well as they did at the Europeans they should make to final four.
Switzerland has a a strong team, Patrick Hurliman is in at third, he got Olympic gold in 1998, he started playing with this team as a sub in the early part of the season but soon got absorbed into the team. Skip Claudio Pescia has played for both Italy and Switzerland.
Andi Kapp for Germany is without his brother Uli this year, Uli has had knee surgery so is unfit to play. But the rest of the team has been with Andi for a number of years. Andi's team got silver last year.
Thomas Ulsrud for Norway has come out from the shadow of Pal Trulsen, his team went through the Europeans undefeated to the last game when they met the Murdoch four. I think they could make the final four or at least a tie break.
The team from Denmark skipped by Johnny Frederiksen took the bronze medal at the Europeans and looked a solid foursome throughout that event, they could be fighting for a playoff spot.
Sweden would normally be tipped for the top but this is a new team this year. Skip Anders Kraupp certainly knows his way around international championships, for many years he was alternate for Peja Lindholm. This year he's got his own team, his second and third players are in their early twenties. No idea how well this team will perform.
The rest of the teams are unknown quantities, both China and the Czech Republic are making their first appearance at World Championships.
France, well what can I say, they're best known for giving the top teams, especially Scotland, a fright, I can't see them being in contention.
USA? Well skip Craig Brown comes from a well known curling family, he last won the US title in 2000 and this team has no track record, but at home who knows?
Hugh Millikin, the Australian skip, has played a number of World Championships since 1995 but never made an impact.
Sit back and enjoy.
Above Team Scotland L-R: David Murdoch, Graeme Connal, Peter Smith and Euan Byers. Photo by Hugh Stewart.
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