The majority of the 16 teams in the competitive division of the Brandon Men’s Bonspiel are fighting for the berth available for the Safeway Championship next month.
A successful weekend here followed by a great week at the provincial men’s championship in Neepawa could result in their dream coming true of curling at the Tim Hortons Brier.
One team, however, isn’t worried about the Brier at all. In fact, Rui Liu and teammates Xiaoming Xu, Jialiang Zang, Dexin Ba and Dejia Zou have already booked their tickets to the world championship. Liu, who skips the Chinese national team, was the best team at the 2012 Pacific-Asia competition in November and now they’re in Canada to hone their skills in preparation for the worlds from March 30 to April 7.
"Curling’s a new sport in China," Liu said through a translator. "In Canada it’s a strong sport, so we’re learning here. We’re trying to get every chance to learn."
The odds of the Chinese squad facing any of the Brandon bonspiel teams at this year’s world championship aren’t very good. Of all the teams in the field, only Rob Fowler’s Brandon Curling Club team has even reached the Brier, finishing third in last year’s event.
However, the early games at this weekend’s bonspiel have been challenging.
Liu needed an extra end to get past Arden’s Kevin Paramor Thursday and Carberry’s Kelly Marnoch gave him a tight match Friday afternoon before Liu eventually won 6-4.
Results from Liu’s A-event qualifier against Arborg’s Kyle Foster were unavailable at press time last night. Fowler was facing Virden’s Cory Zdan in the other A-event qualifier.
While most Canadians wouldn’t rank the quality of curling in this bonspiel anywhere near the quality that will be on display at the Brier or the worlds, the Chinese team believes there’s a lot they can learn here.
"Curling is not like other sports," Liu said. "Each team has many chances. There are many skilled teams in Canada. We just try to play our best against them."
Brandon is the first of many stops across North America for Liu’s squad. They plan to take part in several bonspiels as they prepare for the world championship.
Liu skipped China to a 6-5 record in last year’s worlds, which was one win short of reaching the tiebreakers. This year, he has bigger goals set for the team.
"We try to be in the top three teams at the worlds," he said.
The Brandon Men’s Bonspiel also features 40 teams in the recreation division. The event continues today and concludes on Sunday with recreation event finals set for 3:30 p.m., at the Riverview club. The competitive division final will be played on Sunday at the Brandon club, also at 3:30 p.m.