AL HACKNER will not be back to defend his Northern Ontario senior title but two of his teammates, Frank Morissette and Gary Champagne, will be contending.

The provincial men’s playdowns for those age-50-plus curlers gets underway with the Senior West Qualifier in Terrace Bay this weekend and the Senior East Qualifier in Espanola.

Morissette and Champagne are bidding for a third straight trip to nationals but this time Morissette will be skipping in place of Hackner while Champagne will provide sweeping power at lead.

Hackner is opting out of seniors this year partly due to a scheduling conflict with the Masters Provincials and his time commitment to coaching with the Glenn Muirhead rink from Scotland and John Morris in mixed doubles.

The Morissette rink is listed as representing the Fort William Curling Club but the team includes Mike Pozihun and Andy Peloza, two veteran players from the Port Arthur club, at third and second.

Morissette is one of six teams at the West Qualifier in Terrace Bay vying for three spots to the Northern Ontario Seniors set for Sturgeon Falls Jan. 12-15.

Morissette is expected to have a chance at another provincial berth. The 68-year-old veteran has skipped at the provincial level many times in Alberta over the years. In fact, Morissette lost two provincial men’s finals to Kevin Martin.

In the Northern Ontario West Qualifier, the six-team round robin opens with the first draw Friday at 2 p.m. Morissette and his Fort William Curling Club rink face Kent Maarup and his Port Arthur Curling Club rink of Troy Avis, Rob Shubat and Dennis Sorensen in the opener. Maarup, like Morissette, is one of four Thunder Bay teams who have used the Tbaytel Major League to prepare for the senior playdowns.

Scott Henderson, a former Northern Ontario Brier rep, returns to senior play with a strong lineup. Henderson’s Fort William Curling Club rink is made up of Mike Desilets, Dale Wiersema and Bill Peloza, along with coach Harvey Loewen. Henderson faces the Jackson four from Fort Frances in their first game. Lorne Jackson with his own playdown experience is skipping his brothers Dale and Derek with their father Jim at lead.

Ron Rosengren and his Port Arthur Curling Club foursome of Gary Maunula, Ken Sundell and Dave Sholz with coach Larry Rathje is back in the senior playdowns after taking a few years off. Rosengren is expected to contend for a provincial berth as they take on the hometown rink of Ken Blackwood in their opening match. Blackwood’s Terrace Bay rink of Frank Trichilo, Brad McMillan and Scott Adams with Kirk Strilchuk as fifth are hoping to make the most of home ice advantage and the support of a partisan crowd.

The teams will play a second draw Friday, two more games Saturday, and a final draw Sunday morning. Tiebreakers, if needed, are set for Sunday afternoon and evening.

The Senior East Qualifer in Espanola will see 12 teams play a triple-knockout for five spots. Former champion Robbie Gordon is one of the Sudbury teams expected to advance with Keith Furevick and Bruce Munro two other contenders from the nickel city. Dave MacInnes from Timmins and Dan Lemieux from Sault Ste. Marie are the other rinks with experience favoured to qualify.

Brier Playdowns

Three teams have signed up for the Men’s West Qualifer set for Fort Frances Dec. 20-22. Dylan Johnston from the Fort William Curling Club, Jordan Chandler’s Little Current rink with Thunder Bay’s Trevor Bonot at third, and Sagel Mercer from Sioux Lookout will play for two spots to the Northern Ontairo men’s provincials set for New Liskeard at the end of January.

Saskatchewan Success

Al Hackner returned home from his 12-day trip to Saskatchewan where the famed Thunder Bay curler was coaching the Glenn Muirhead rink from Perth, Scotland.

The Muirhead rink under Hackner’s tutelage lost the final of a World Curling Tour event in Wadena, Sask., this past weekend. The Scottish farm boys settled for a $2,400 payday with a second-place finish at the 16-team event.

The week before, Muirhead also made the money at a cashspiel in Saskatoon, losing in the quarterfinals. Despite their success in Saskatchewan, Muirhead with limited play this year ranks 76th overall in the world rankings with 44.936 points.

Major League Tonight

Zack Warkentin and his teammates Mike McCarville, Jordan Potter and Travis Potter will bring some intensity to their game against Frank Morissette as the Tbaytel Major League of Curling heads into Draw 10 beginning at 9 p.m. at the Port Arthur Curling Club.

First place overall and finishing in the top seven will be the focus as four round robin draws remain in the in the local competitive league to determine the playoff rankings. Ten of the 14 teams are still in the fight for a top-seven finish while first place overall has eight teams with a shot for the first round bye.

The 14-teams in the local Thunder Bay competitive league will be split into two playoff divisions — championship and consolation — for the Championship Saturday finale on Jan. 25 at the Port Arthur Curling Club. The first place team after round robin play will earn a bye to the championship semi-finals with the top seven teams qualifing for the championship round to play for the Tbaytel Major League title.

Mike McCarville and Morissette both have 6-3 records and need a win to improve their chances for a first place finish.

The teams skipped by Al Hackner, Dylan Johnston and Ben Mikkelsen are the front runners going into Draw 10, tied for first place with 7-2 records. However, four teams — Mike McCarville, Ron Rosengren, Frank Morissette and Gary Weiss — are only one win back at 6-3.

After a stunning 8-0 loss to young Matt Duizer, Hackner’s team will be out for redemption as they draw the winless Bryan Burgess squad. Meanwhile, Mikkelsen draws the young U18 Duizer rink who, at 2-7, are out to show their win over Hackner was no fluke. Johnston has a tougher test as they take on Team Trevor Bonot fighting to stay in the hunt for a top-seven finish. Bonot sits in eighth place with a 5-4 record.

The other two teams of Ron Rosengren and Gary Weiss, tied for fourth place with McCarville and Morissette, face teams with 2-7 records. Rosengren draws Jonathon Vellinga while Weiss takes on Liane Fossum.

Krista McCarville and Scott Henderson round out the Draw 10 schedule. The two teams need a win to stay in the race for a top seven finish. McCarville sits in ninth place with a 4-5 record, while Henderson’ senior squad are 3-6 in 10th place, but bring a two-game win streak into Draw 10.

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(If you have information that you want to share in this weekly curling column, email John Cameron at johncameron14@gmail.com or call him at 631-3032.)

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