Harris on curling: The elite at The National

Martin went undefeated to win the 2009 Brier. (CP)
January 23, 2013, 12:12 PM

The third Grand Slam of Curling event is The National, where the best teams in the world will be competing for a $100,000 purse, gets underway on Thursday in Port Hawksbury, N.S., and the 18 competing teams will all have goals and objectives that reflect their current status in the world of competitive curling.

At the top of the World Curling Tour pecking order there are five teams that have separated themselves from the rest of the field, in one way or another. Along with trying to win The National, these elite five teams will use this event as a warm-up to their provincial Brier playdowns, which will all wrap up over the next two weeks or so across the country.

Watch the first Grand Slam of Curling event of 2013,The National, on Sportsnet from Jan. 24-27 with coverage starting Thursday at 11:30 a.m. ET / 8:30 a.m. PT on all Sportsnet regional channels

Because of their consistent and strong performances over the past two seasons, defending champion Glenn Howard of Ontario, Kevin Martin and Kevin Koe of Alberta, and Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen of Manitoba have all guaranteed themselves a coveted berth in the Olympic Trials being held in Winnipeg next December. This allows these teams to play with a little less pressure at The National, as their opportunity to represent Canada at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games is already secured.

If anyone other than these five squads go on to win this event, it would be somewhat of a surprise in my estimation.

The best of the rest

The next two Canadian teams on the WCT list really have something to play for. John Epping of Toronto, and Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., are fighting for the final direct berth into those Olympic Trials in Winnipeg.

Epping has a 50-point lead in the Canadian Team Ranking System standings at the moment, but Jacobs is coming off his best Grand Slam performance ever at the Canadian Open in Kelowna, where he lost in the final to Howard. Additionally, Jacobs is the clear favourite to win the Northern Ontario spot in the Brier, while Epping would have to knock off seven-time defending champion Howard in the south in order to represent Ontario.

Epping really needs to find his form here in Port Hawksbury to try to book his spot in Winnipeg. Epping has been very streaky this year, but the 2012 Players Champion has shown that he is capable of winning big when he is on. If Jacobs can close the gap on Epping here however, he will feel really good about grabbing that last Trials spot as he heads towards his Brier playdowns.

For the rest of the field, qualifying and making it deep into the playoffs will provide them with much needed momentum as they head into their respective provincial playdowns. Virtually all of the rest of the field have earned their way in to the Olympic pre-trials being held next November, where 12 teams will compete for two spots in Winnipeg.

European flavour

Additionally there are four European teams in the event. European champion Niklas Edin of Sweden, European runner-up Thomas Ulsrud of Norway, and two young Swiss Teams led by Peter De Cruz and Sven Michel who have their national playdowns coming up quickly.

This January Grand Slam event always provides some interesting prequels to the rest of the season along with some ongoing rivalries and stories as the best teams in the world gather once again in Port Hawksbury.

Coverage begins this Thursday, with 9 draws being covered by Sportsnet over 4 days. Tune in and join us! It should be a great week of curling.


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