In a normal year, Jeff Richard would have already played 50 to 60 games leading up to the B.C. men’s curling championship.
As it is, the Kelowna foursome has played no more than 35 this season, forcing them to find other ways to stay sharp in advance of provincials next week at the Vernon Curling Club.
As the defending champs, Richard, third Tom Shypitka, second Tyler Orme and lead Chris Anderson had an automatic berth to the B.C. finals, bypassing the local and regional playdowns and several games in the process.
The last major event the Kelowna rink played in was the Crown of Curling more than two months ago in Kamloops.
“It’s been pretty tough, it’s a bit of a different situation for us this year in that we haven’t played a lot,” said Richard. “It’s hard when you haven’t really played any competitive games in months. The good thing is, we played well in those last two events (Kamloops and Whitehorse) we were in.”
While Richard and Co. hasn’t had a lot of quality time on the ice, preparation away from the arena has been a different story.
“We’ve tried to stay sharp off the ice with a lot of mental training, we’ve worked pretty hard at that side of the game.
“One thing we know for sure is we’ll be well rested,” added Richard. “This is our fourth year together, so maybe that’ll work in our favour, too.”
Too much downtime or not, the Richard crew has to be considered one of the favourites at the 10-rink event which begins Monday morning in Vernon.
The teams will play a nine-game round robin after which time the Page Playoff System will be used with four teams.
Also expected to contend for the B.C. championship is Jim Cotter and his Vernon/Kelowna rink of Ken Maskiewich, Kevin Folk and Rick Sawatsky.
Cotter, Folk and Sawastky all played with Bob Ursel when the rink captured the B.C. title back in 2008.
The Cotter team secured a spot at provincials thanks to their No. 1 standing in Canadian Team Ranking System standings, a clear indication that 2010-11 has been a good year for the local rink.
Cotter won the Crown of Curling, qualified at the Grand Slam event in Vernon, and reached the semifinals in two other World Curling Tour events.
The sour taste from last year’s provincials serves as motivation for the Cotter rink which went 9-0 in the round robin, then lost back-to-back games in the playoffs.
“Any time you go to provincials and don’t win, it’s always motivation to come back and take another shot at it,” said Cotter. “We ran into Jeff (Richard), they were playing well, they had the momentum and you tip your hat to teams that get on a roll like they did.”
As evidenced by Richard’s performance last year, pretty much anything can happen at the B.C. men’s championship. The Kelowna rink stumbled to a 1-3 start, then reeled off eight straight wins to capture the title.
But unlike the 2010 tournament when the Richard appeared to come from nowhere, the Kelowna team will be very much at the centre of attention.
“We’re going to have a target on our back so we need to be mentally prepared for this,” said Richard. “We’re going in with the mindset that even though we’re defending champs, everybody starts from square one and has an equal chance. We’ve given the trophy back and now we have to go out and prove our ourselves again and re-win it.”
And what would a return trip the Brier mean to the 31-year-old skip and his rink mates ?
“It was a great experience, the best week of our lives,” said Richard, whose team went 4-7 at last year’s Brier in Halifax.
“Getting back there is definitely going to be motivation for us at provincials. It’s every curlers dream.”
The B.C. final is set for Sunday, Feb. 13 at the Vernon Curling Club.
The winner will represent the province at the Tim Hortons Brier, March 5 to 13, at the John Labatt Centre In London.