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Curling’s All-Star Skins game adds new wrinkle to Rama cashspiel: You choose the players

Manitoba skip Mike McEwen has his eyes on an all-star spot in The Skins Game. (The Canadian Press)So, what's your pleasure, curling fan?

Like to see Kevin Martin skipping a team he's never played with?

How about Glenn Howard without his trusty front end of Craig Savill and Brent Laing?

Does the prospect of Randy Ferbey playing vice for Brad Gushue fill you with glee and anticipation?

You may just get what you want in a new format for TSN's annual curling cash spiel at Casino Rama near Orillia, Ontario. The Dominion Skins Game has gone all-star and you get a partial say in how the teams are put together.

On line voting has begun (closing on December 10th), with curling fans getting a chance to vote for the players they'd most like to see at the tourney, with a random draw of player names rounding out the squads just ahead of the January 19-20 competition.

The random draw does remove some of the drama - I'm told that there was consideration given to having the skips choose their teams as the captains do at the NHL All-Star Game - but the notion of some of the top curlers in the world basically taking part in a $100,000.00 tag-draw bonspiel is sure to add a little flavour to an event that is loved by curling fans, sure, but that has suffered a little bit of a stale feeling over the last few years.

TSN reports that the average draw at The Skins Game runs somewhere in the neighbourhood of 365,000 viewers "over the past few years." Not bad, but room for improvement, particularly when stacked up against Brier or Scotties numbers.

Can't help but think that while this wrinkle is a good idea, making it a men's only event leaves me a little cold. There are plenty of women's stars out there and having both a men's and women's draw would have been even more attractive. It's possible that the logistics of having twice as many games at a limited venue like Rama might just be too difficult, but it's something that could be addressed moving forward. This is the sixth year in a row that The Skins Game will be contested in the concert venue at the central Ontario casino and entertainment centre, so organizers might be loathe to move it from there in the near future. However, if that's what it would take to make this event even bigger, they ought to seriously consider it.

Moreover, adding some of the game's best females in a mixed curling event would have made this an even better splash of curling stars. Eve Muirhead vicing for Jeff Stoughton? Kaitlyn Lawes throwing third for Mike McEwen? Heck, Dave Nedohin vicing for Heather Nedohin? Fun.

A check of the all-star ballot, which was put together by plucking players from teams that top the Canadian Curling Association's rankings from the 2011-2012 season, shows curling fans have tough decisions to make, even narrowing down their choices to four at each position.

Maybe that's why you'll find the likes of Team Mike McEwen lobbying hard to make the grade on their team website. When asked if he and his mates want badly to take part in the event, McEwen responded, via email:

"Absolutely! I believe Team McEwen deserves some representation in it and hoping the fans feel the same way! We've all grown-up watching the Skins Game and would love to be part of it. I had firsthand experience watching live when my fiancee played in it (Dawn Askin, Team Jones)... Better win more skins than her or I'll hear about it, haha!"

McEwen likes the new flavour the all-star format brings to skins and thinks it will lead to a whole new level of fan participation and interest.

"I love the buzz that it is creating for fans and curling in social media. We hope people vote for their favorites, but more importantly, the most deserving players. Looking forward to see how it all plays out and the live draw on TSN should be entertaining!"

He's got that right. Although, as mentioned, it would have been a wee bit more interesting had the skips been forced to choose up sides. For the hell of it, I asked McEwen who he'd most and least like to curl with at the event, should he be voted in. The curler he'd least want to play with is Randy Ferbey, simply because of the possible lack of sweeping power between them:

"I love Randy Ferbey," he wrote, "but geez, who the heck is gonna sweep the length of the sheet between us! Ask my team, they already complain about the 6 feet (teeline to backline) I get to do!"

The choice of who McEwen would most like to play with has more to do with making a clean getaway than with curling prowess.

"Tough question," he replied. "Maybe one of the Harnden boys (E.J. and Ryan, from Northern Ontario)? After we take all the skins they can double as bodyguards!"

With a hundred large at stake, McEwen would be hopeful of sliding away with a nice little sum. However, would the lure of an in-house casino threaten to see any prize money evaporate?

"I'll for sure take a few rolls of the dice," he wrote. "Or a go or two at blackjack! But, can't give it all back... quit while ahead or cut my losses!"

McEwen's competition for votes at the skip position includes Howard, Martin, Gushue, Stoughton, Nedohin, Rob Fowler, Kevin Koe and Brad Jacobs. Most of them need to get on the promo train. At the posting of this column, McEwen's and Martin's are the only team websites actively encouraging fans to vote for them (although a check of team twitter feeds shows some self-promotion). There's even a big, red button for McEwen's fans to click that takes them directly to the voting website. You can expect the others to ramp it up anytime, now.

In fact, the social media war for your curling heart is just getting started. It will be interesting to see how active and competitive the twitter feeds gets as we get closer to the December 10th voting deadline.

The TSN Dominon Skins Game ballot can be found here.

Links to team sites are here:

Team Rob Fowler

Team Brad Gushue

Team Glenn Howard

Team Brad Jacobs

Team Kevin Koe

Team Kevin Martin

Team Mike McEwen

Team Dave Nedohin

Team Jeff Stoughton

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