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Question marks remain on Canadian curling scene ahead of new season and quadrennial

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Members of team P.E.I. sweep their rock at the Brier in Brandon, Man., on March 5, 2019. The inaugural Sept. 21-25 PointsBet Invitational in Fredericton was trumpeted this week as a kickoff to the 2022-23 curling season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

A new big-money invitational event was trumpeted this week as a kickoff to the 2022-23 curling season. The announcement also helped shine a spotlight on some of the uncertainty on the Canadian curling scene.

There's no word yet on television plans for the new PointsBet Invitational, the long-running Canada Cup has been quietly dropped from the calendar and there are no firm plans for the return of the Continental Cup.

The inaugural Sept. 21-25 PointsBet Invitational in Fredericton is currently the lone Season of Champions event scheduled for the first half of the season.

"I guess any time we have a company stepping forward to say they want to sponsor a major curling event, we should be happy about that," said Warren Hansen, a former player who spent several years as Curling Canada's event operations director.

"But to a very large degree, I'm having difficulty getting my head around this whole thing as to what its purpose is and to some degree what it's satisfying."

The developments come during a busy off-season for Curling Canada, which is conducting a review and search for new high-performance leadership this summer. Middling results on the international stage have put the pressure on the program to rebound over the coming four-year cycle.

It remains unclear if the Canada Cup will return later in the quadrennial. One of the main domestic events on the calendar and sometimes a qualifier for Canada's Olympic Trials, it was not played in 2020 or 2021 due to the pandemic.

Kyle Jahns, Curling Canada's communications and media relations manager, said the Canada Cup won't be played next season and there was "no official determination" for the event in the 2023-24 campaign.

"There are still many factors playing into event delivery that are tied into Curling Canada's business operations and are still being determined as we enter a new quadrennial," Jahns said Thursday via email.

Most of Canada's elite teams recently made roster changes with a long-term eye on qualifying for the 2026 Milan Olympics.

Internal discussions have started regarding the trials qualification process, Jahns said, adding the information will be readily available for teams and stakeholders in "due time for the upcoming quadrennial."

Meanwhile, the PointsBet Invitational, with draws of 16 Canadian teams in both men's and women's competitions, will have a March Madness-style single-elimination format. It will showcase Curling Canada's new partnership with PointsBet Canada and offer $50,000 apiece to the two winning teams.

However, in an unusual omission for a high-profile event on the Season of Champions calendar, broadcast plans were not announced. Coverage plans for rightsholder TSN/RDS are normally noted in announcements for showcase competitions like the Tim Hortons Brier or Scotties Tournament of Hearts.

A TSN spokesman said via email that production planning for the PointsBet Invitational was underway and details will be confirmed in the coming months.

Meanwhile, the Continental Cup, a multi-discipline event that made its debut in 2002, was last played in January 2020 when Team Europe beat Team Canada in London, Ont. Jahns said more information would be forthcoming on the status of the event, without revealing specifics.

Fredericton was set to host the 2020 Canada Cup and the 2022 Continental Cup but both events were cancelled because of the pandemic. Instead the city will get to host the PointsBet Invitational at the 1,500-seat Willie O'Ree Place.

In early October, the Sportsnet-owned Grand Slam of Curling circuit will kick off with the Boost National in North Bay, Ont.

The new-look early-season schedule has also thrown a wrench into plans for mid-tier events like the "Stu Sells Series," which traditionally draws some big-name teams since the bonspiels serve as warm-ups ahead of high-profile tour stops.

Event sponsor Stuart Sankey said he had to move the Stu Sells Toronto Tankard back a week when the National took the Thanksgiving long weekend dates that he had used for the last decade.

He also ended up postponing the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard since he expected most of the top teams to play the PointsBet Invitational that week instead.

Sankey said he has found that communication with the sport's powerbrokers has been scarce or non-existent.

"There needs to be a body that just sort of co-ordinates it all," he said from Toronto. "It gets to the point that you've got more bonspiels trying to chase fewer teams.

"I think now it's getting to the point where there's too much quantity and not enough quality."

Also Thursday, the World Curling Federation welcomed five new inductees into the World Curling Hall of Fame for 2022. They include Canadians Ian Tetley, Jan Betker, Joan McCusker and Marcia Gudereit along with New Zealand's Peter Becker.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2022.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press