Curling in Canada is a unique experience and one that Eve Muirhead cannot wait to do again this week.
“It is totally different here,” said Muirhead, last week by phone from Scotland, where she is perhaps her country’s most accomplished curler, despite the fact she is just 21 years old.
“(The) sports is so massive over in Canada; it has grown over here, but it is not the same.
“It is just a totally different atmosphere playing in Canada.”
Muirhead and her rink of teammates Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams and Claire Hamilton, are part of Team World.
The team consists of two Scottish rinks, two Swedish rinks, and one each from Norway and China.
This is the eighth edition of the championships, which began in 2002, and Team North America holds a four-to-three advantage in the Ryder-Cup style format.
The unique competition sees the curlers battle in various disciplines during the four days — regular team games, mixed doubles, singles, mixed skins and skins games. Each segment awards points for wins or ties with the first side to reach 200 points declared the winner.
Muirhead was invited to take part in the 2011 Continental Cup, but declined in order to maintain her final year of eligibility.
That does not mean she is a stranger to major competitions, having already established a remarkable record of success on the international stage.
Muirhead is a four-time world junior champion and holds the distinction of being the first skip to represent her country in both the senior and junior world championships in the same year.
She also represented Great Britain’s entry into the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and also won silver that year at the women’s world championships.
“The Continental Cup is such a massive event in the curling calendar,” she said. “I am really looking forward to it.”
Stephanie Lawton will take part in her second Continental Cup, having also represented Team North America at the 2008 competition in Camrose, Alta.
“The first time was a lot of fun,” she said from her home in Saskatchewan last week.
“It is completely different than any event we have ever played in.”
Lawton remembers the electric atmosphere in Camrose.
“It was just so cool,” she described.
“There were high-fives going on even when you are playing on different sheets.
“It is a real event and we really enjoy ourselves.”
While all of the curlers are elite, part of the challenge for them is quickly adapting their games and styles to the unique format of the Continental Cup.
“It is completely different than any other event we have ever played in,” Lawton said.
“You are so used to playing a regular game, now it is learning the rules for a skins game or mixed doubles. The strategy is just slightly different.”
She predicts it will be another great memory.
“It is going to be great curling and a great atmosphere to watch,” Lawton said.
Lawton’s rink includes Sherry Anderson, Sherri Singler and Marliese Kasner.
Anderson is in her second year with the rink, while the other three have been together for seven or eight years.
Lawton has curled competitively for more than a decade and represented Saskatchewan in four junior national championships. She also skipped Team Canada to a silver at the world junior championships in 2000.
A look at the dozen teams competing at the Continental Cup:
Team North America
Glenn Howard, Wayne Middaugh, Brent Laing and Craig Savill
Howard, a veteran curler from Ontario, has a lengthy list of achievements highlighted by a trio of national and world men’s championships over the course of a career that’s seen him wear the Ontario crest at 13 Briers (Canadian men’s championships), including the past six in a row.
Jeff Stoughton, Jon Mead, Reid Carruthers and Steve Gould
Stoughton is a veteran of nine Briers, including three titles and a pair of world championships.
Stoughton was competing this weekend at the TSN Skins Game, where he came second.
Pete Fenson, Shawn Rojeski, Joe Polo and Ryan Brunt
Fenson is one of the most accomplished competitors in U.S. curling history.
He is a seven-time winner of the U.S. men’s championships and won bronze at the 2006 Winter Olympic.
Amber Holland, Kim Schneider, Tammy Schneider and Heather Kalenchuk
Holland led the Saskatchewan rink to the 2011 Scotties Tournament of Hearts title last year.
Canadian Curling Association photo
Skip Stefanie Lawton and her rink are making their second appearance at the Continental Cup of Curling.
Stefanie Lawton, Sherry Anderson, Sherri Singler and Marliese Kasner
Lawton has represented Saskatchewan at four national junior championships and skipped Team Canada to the silver medal in 2000 at the world junior championships.
Patti Lank, Nina Spatola, Catilin Maroldo and Mackenzie Lank
Patti Lank is one of the most successful competitors in U.S. curling history. She has attended 16 U.S. national championships, winning the title five times.
Thomas Ulsrud, Torger Nergard, Christoffer Svae and Havard Vad Petersson
Ulsrud skipped his country to the silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Tom Brewster, Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews and Michael Goodfellow
Brewster’s resume includes gold at the world junior championships in 1995, bronze in the world men’s championships, and finally silver at the 2011 championships.
Niklas Edin, Sebastian Kraupp, Fredrik Lindberg and Victor Kjall
Edin leads one of the hottest young international teams as the Swedes won bronze at the 2011 world men’s championships.
Anette Norberg, Cissi Ostlund, Sara Carlsson and Lotta Lennartsson
Norberg made history at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics when she became the first skip to successfully defend her Olympic title.
The Swedish skip’s competitive career dates back to the 1980s.
Bingyu Wang, Yin Liu, Qingshuang Yue and Yan Zhou
Wang didn’t pick up a curling stone until 2001, but it didn’t take long for her to pick up the game.
Since 2005, Wang had made a mark on the international curling scene, representing her country in six world women’s championships. She won gold in 2009, silver in 2008 and bronze in 2011. Wang also skipped her team to the bronze medal at the 2010 Olympics.
Eve Muirhead, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams and Claire Hamilton
Muirhead is a four-time world junior champion and won silver at the 2010 world women’s championships.
Thursday — 8:30 a.m. (women’s team competition); 1 p.m. (mixed doubles); 6:30 p.m. (men’s team competition).
Friday — 8:30 a.m. (women’s team competition); 1 p.m. (mixed doubles); 7 p.m. (men’s team competition).
Saturday — 9 a.m. (‘A’ Skins, women’s, men’s, mixed); 1:30 p.m. (Singles); 6:30 p.m. (‘B’ Skins, women’s, men’s, mixed).
Sunday — 10:30 a.m. (‘C’ Skins, women’s); 5 p.m. (‘C’ Skins, men’s).