Terry Warren has never flown on an airplane but that will change today when he hops aboard a giant bird and heads east to Fredericton.
Naturally, the 58-year-old Warren made a purchase that he hopes will help pop his ears several thousand feet in the air.
"He bought gum," Warren’s brother Reg said with a laugh on Friday afternoon as the pair were heading down the Trans-Canada Highway to Winnipeg. "He doesn’t mind heights so he will be fine."
Terry and Reg, who throw second and lead stones, respectively, on brother Murray’s Manitoba senior men’s curling championship-winning foursome along with third Brian Barker, are eager to land in New Brunswick ahead of the national championships.
The event, which includes the other 13 provincial and territorial senior men’s and women’s champions, begins Monday and runs until March 25. Games will be played at Willie O’Ree Place and the Capital Winter Club.
The Brandon Curling Club foursome earned the right to represent Manitoba with a 6-4 extra-end victory over two-time defending champion Randy Neufeld on Feb. 27 in Winnipeg.
Reg doesn’t expect what they accomplished last month will truly set in until they hit the ice for their first contest against Alberta on Monday afternoon, but he believes there will be a buzz at the venues.
"It’s likely not going to be a lot different than what you have at the (Viterra Championship)," Reg said. "We attended a few of those where there were a ton of people, so it will be kind of neat."
Terry isn’t quite sure what to expect over the course of the week but is definitely excited for the national championship debuts of all four curlers.
"I’m looking forward to it but I don’t know what to expect," he said. "I think it will be a lot of fun and hopefully we do half decent."
Neufeld, who won the Canadian senior men’s title in 2015, lost last year’s final 6-3 to Ontario. As a result, Manitoba is grouped with Alberta, New Brunswick, Northern Ontario, Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan in Pool B. Pool A features British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Yukon.
The top four teams in each pool after six games advance to the championship pool, while the bottom four teams drop to the seeding pool.
In the women’s field, Manitoba finds itself paired with most of the same teams, with Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador replacing Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Pool B.
Last year’s Manitoba champions, skipped by Sandra Cowling of Hamiota, finished atop the seeding pool with a 5-4 record.
This year’s provincial winners, skipped by Eden’s Terry Ursel and playing out of the Landsdowne/Arden area, are aiming to improve on that mark by winding up in the championship pool.
"We just want to curl well and we feel like if we can curl like we can there’s no reason why we can’t win some games too," second Brenda Walker said. "We’re just hoping to get our nerves under control and have some fun down there and try to do our best."
Gwen Wooley, who lives in Minto, throws third stones and Winnipeg’s Tracy Igonia is the second.
It’s the first trip to nationals for all four women and will mark Walker’s inaugural visit to the Maritimes. All four of their husbands are also making the trek east.
"We are very excited, this is very much so a dream come true for our team," Walker said. "Terry and I have been curling together for a long time and we curled at (provincial) Scotties together. We’ve curled 15 to 20 years already together, so this is really exciting for us. When we got together two years ago this was something we really targeted."
Ursel and company rallied from a 5-2 deficit after six ends, scoring three in the seventh and stealing two in eight for a 7-5 victory over Barb Spencer in the provincial final.
That was after defeating Brandonite Maureen Bonar and her team from the Stonewall club 7-3 in a tiebreaker, knocking off Bev Atkins 8-1 in the 2-vs.-2 Page playoff game and dethroning Cowling 7-1 in the semifinal.
Walker, who is 52 and lives in Plumas, hopes that gritty effort will show up again in Fredericton.
"We were never ever out of the game, we were always just an inch or two away from counting and then they’d steal one on us, but I think we all felt that our break would come in that game and then three in the seventh end it definitely gave us a chance," she said of the final. "Terry, with her last two shots, made two beautiful shots and we were lucky that we pulled that off.
"It just goes to show that you can come from behind and things work out."
And although the women will be playing for the buffalo on each of their backs, they will also be playing for their respective communities.
"We take a lot of pride in where we come from," Walker said. "We live on our little towns and curl in our local clubs … and it means a lot to us and the communities that we live in."
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