The unique appeal of curling is that teams from Victoria to St. John's, and everywhere in-between, start out each year with a chance.
Jay Wakefield of the Royal City club in New Westminster was busy winning the Vancouver Island Shootout men's title Monday afternoon at the Victoria Curling Centre with a 9-2 five-ends victory over Neil Dangerfield from the host club.
But the vision for the season is to be playing across the parking lot next door at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre in March at the 2013 world championship.
"That is absolutely the dream for all of us since we were kids - to play in the Brier and then the worlds," said Wakefield.
And every four years, you can add the Winter Olympics.
"We've dedicated a good part of our lives to this quest," Wakefield said.
Wakefield came close last season, finishing third at the 2012 B.C. championship in Parksville. Victorian Dangerfield came even closer the year before - losing 6-4 to Jim Cotter of Kelowna in the B.C. championship game in Vernon and watching the latter take the province's berth in the 2011 Brier at London, Ont.
"It was quite a thing to come within one or two shots of the Brier," said Dangerfield, a 43-year-old Department of Fisheries lab technician. "It still haunts our dreams to be that close. We're still hungry to get back."
And so the pursuit begins anew for top rinks such as Dangerfield's and Wakefield's.
"We hope to make it back to Parksville," said Wakefield, referring to the Island community that will again be the site of the B.C. championship in 2013. It's one of the stops on the road to the Brier at Rexall Place in Edmonton and world championship at the Memorial Centre in Victoria.
"But none of these rinks will be easy to get through," added the 25-year-old computer engineer from New Westminster.
That's why events such as the $26,000 Island Shootout, which featured 15 men's and 16 women's rink, are important to sharpen skills for playdown season. And to pocket a bit of money.
Wakefield (5-0 over the three-day shootout) took the $4,500 first-prize purse and Dangerfield (5-2) the $2,500 second-place money in men's play.
Roberta Kuhn of Vernon grabbed the $4,500 first-prize pay for the women's shootout with a 5-3 victory in the championship game Monday over Heather Jensen of Calgary. Both finalists took the long route to the women's final as the Kuhn and Jensen rinks each played 10 games over an exhausting weekend.
"That's way too much curling," quipped Kuhn, only half-joking, as she stepped off the ice with the title in hand.
"We must look like ragamuffins. We made it the hard way. We were digging deep."
Yet playing that many games did have its benefits.
"We actually wanted to get in a lot of games to get us ready for playdowns," Kuhn said.
The Vancouver Island Shootout, the brainchild of organizers Chris Baier and Will Sutton, is in its third year and is proving a popular early-season stop.
"The idea was to give Island teams some good competition without having to travel," said Baier, the Islander who skipped the Wakefield rink to third place last season in B.C., but who is taking this year off because of a new job.
"There are so many good teams on the Island but travel is expensive. Bringing good teams here to play helps. We hope to grow this shootout in the future."
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