Jock Tyre always has his finger on the pulse of Kelowna's curling community - and it's beating as strong as ever with the Canadian Open taking place at Prospera Place this week.
The Grand Slam of Curling event, which runs Wednesday through Sunday, features 18 of the world's best men's teams competing for $100,000 in prize money over 12 draws. Among those in contention is Jim Cotter, a Vernon skip whose foursome includes third Jason Gunnlaugson of Vernon, plus Kelowna products Tyrel Griffith as second and Rick Sawatsky as lead. Tyre noted David Nedohin of Edmonton, who has represented Canada at the world championship as part of Randy Ferbey's team in years past, was slated to replace Gunnlaugson as third for Cotter during the Canadian Open. However, Nedohin is no longer able to attend - and he's not the only big name dropping out.
"There's already some good storylines playing out," Tyre said. "Kevin Martin has gone down with an injury and he's going in for surgery (hernia operation today), so John Morris is going to be skipping by the sounds of it. That will be exciting, and a little bit of a changing of the guard. We'll get to see John throwing last rocks and last time he did that here in this (KCC) building, he won the Canadian juniors in 1999."
While the Canadian Open loses some star-power without Martin, the 2010 Olympic champion, there's still a stacked field of formidable foes. Cotter, for example, opens against 2010 world champion Kevin Koe on Wednesday night (7 p.m. at Prospera Place), then faces 2006 Olympic gold-medallist Brad Gushue on Thursday morning (9 a.m.).
"They'll have their regular team and that'll be good," Tyre said of Gunnlaugson staying the fold for Cotter. "They're just counting the days. They love the fact of playing in front of a hometown crowd.
"From what I understand, there are two busses coming down from Vernon on Friday night for Jim's game (against John Epping of Toronto), so that's pretty cool."
With home-ice advantage, a successful start for Cotter and Co. could also help boost attendance into the weekend's playoffs.
"It sounds like we're not going to fill the building, but (ticket sales) are doing well," Tyre said. "It's busy down here (at KCC), and it's going to get busier. We're getting lots of calls of interest and from people looking to buy tickets. We are sending a lot of people their way."
The venue has undergone a transformation from being home to the Western Hockey League's Kelowna Rockets to hosting five sheets of curling ice.
"Some of my crew has been over there working and they are loving it," Tyre said of Prospera Place.
"The people from Sportsnet have also said it's an amazing arena and we should be doing more curling events there, that the whole facility is perfect for curling."
Among Tyre's other informative tidbits: Koe will be without lead Nolan Thiessen, whose wife is having a baby, while there aren't many foreign teams attending due to a scheduling conflict with the European championship also this week.
"Some of the familiar names aren't going to be here," Tyre said. "A young guy (Peter de Cruz) is coming over from Switzerland and has a pretty competent team, but we won't see Thomas Ulsrud of Norway or Niklas Edin of Sweden."
Tickets are on sale now at Prospera Place, online at www.selectyourtickets.com and by phone at 250-762-5050. For a full schedule and additional information, visit www.worldcurl.com and follow the Canadian Open links.