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Canada Cup Of Curling: Big pressure, Olympic trials berths on the line in Moose Jaw

Saskatchewan's Stefanie Lawton, seen at the 2009 Canadian Olympic Curling Trials, is one of many skips who could …

Not that a payday of $14,000.00 is anything to overlook.

That is the prize money available to both the men's and women's champions at the Canada Cup of Curling, underway now at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan's Mosaic Place, home of the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League.

Money is nice. But a spot in next year's Olympic Trials and a chance there to win and go on to represent Canada at the Sochi, Russia games? Now that is the bigger prize up for grabs.

The 2012 champions at the Canada Cup will have their tickets punched (actually, in this day and age, shouldn't we start saying 'will have their e-tickets scanned?') for the toughest curling competition of next year.

That's because, almost exclusively, the best of the best will be there. As well, the best of the best will be hungry as hell to repeat the glorious gold medal performance of Kevin Martin's crew at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. Can't do that unless you get to Sochi. Can't get to Sochi, unless you first get to Winnipeg, and the Olympic Trials, slated for the MTS Centre, in December of 2013.

Last year's Canada Cup winners have already booked a spot in those Olympic trials. Martin and Jennifer Jones are those Canada Cup champs from 2011, with Glenn Howard and Heather Nedohin earning invitations as well, based on topping the Canadian Curling Association's team rankings at the end of the 2011-12 season.

Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton. (CP)

(You can access an explanation of how the ranking system works by clicking here)

Only four guaranteed spots on each of the men's and women's sides remain, with the rankings leaders at the end of this season getting the nod, as well as the top two teams over the course of  two seasons (this season and last) being brought in as well.

The final two spots at Canada's Olympic showdown will be determined by way of a slugfest, with twelve teams that haven't yet qualified being invited to a pre-trials event, next November, in Kitchener, Ontario.

If that seems just a bit complicated (because it is), you can see the way it's laid out in table-form by clicking here.

The arduous task of having to be the best over a one or two year period, or perhaps worse, having to try and navigate your way through the pre-trials minefield, seems the more complicated and possibly disaster-laden way to go about it.

That's why what's happening in Moose Jaw this week is absolutely huge to rinks not headed up by skips named Howard, Jones, Nedohin or Martin. The math is simple this week.

Win and you're in.

Win this weekend and you can relax. Focus on winning The Scotties or Brier if you like, without having to worry about accruing enough points at every possible event in order to stay alive in the Sochi equation. And get planning on how to best win a Canadian uniform at the trials in Winnipeg.

Oh, in case you're wondering... yes, it can get even a little more complicated. Should Martin, Howard, Team Jones (skipped by Kaitlyn Lawes while Jennifer Jones is on maternity leave) or Nedohin emerge as champs? The spot is not then simply awarded to whoever might be runner-up. The Canadian Curling Association would head back to the rankings at the end of this season to make the determination.

Mike McEwen, Jeff Stoughton, Kevin Koe, Sherry Middaugh and Cathy Overton-Clapham, all in the field in Moose Jaw,  have each clinched spots in the pre-trials soup in Kitchener, that I mentioned a few paragraphs back.

Any of them can avoid that route with a championship this weekend.

Which brings us back to the simplest of equations in a qualifying sytem that can get as complicated as figuring the angles on a quadruple runback.

Just win. And get in.

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