Nick Deagle's curling calendar usually includes weekly games in a recreational league along with four or five cashspiel appearances around Nova Scotia each season.
His rink is going from the club level to the big leagues for the first major event of the 2022-23 campaign.
Deagle will be the No. 16 seed in the 16-team men's competition at the PointsBet Invitational this week in Fredericton. His opponent will be top-seeded St. John's skip Brad Gushue, who won a Canadian title last season in addition to world silver and Olympic bronze.
"It's going to be exciting for us," Deagle said. "We obviously never play teams at that level all the time, or often — or if ever. So it's a big deal for us."
Deagle earned an invite to the inaugural competition by winning last season's Canadian championship for club-level curlers.
The top 12 domestic men's teams in the world curling team ranking system are included in the March Madness-style single-elimination bracket. Rounding out the draw are the reigning Canadian junior champs, a host committee selection and online fan pick.
Same goes for the 16-team women's bracket headlined by Canadian champion Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man. She'll meet 16th-seeded Tracey Larocque in the opening round — dubbed the Sweep 16 — Wednesday afternoon at Willie O'Ree Place.
All teams receive $5,000 for travel and accommodation and can earn more money for each successive victory. A first-round win is worth $3,000, a victory in the Elite Eight is worth $6,000 and a Final Four win is worth $12,000.
The winners of Sunday's finals will pocket another $24,000 for a total haul of $50,000. Competition continues through Sunday.
"I think it's awesome," said veteran curler John Morris, who recently stepped away from the four-player game. "Let's face it, curling could use a bit of a shot in the arm from an excitement standpoint. I know it's not traditional, this one-and-done (setup) and if you lose, you're out.
"But man, nothing is more exciting than watching two teams play when the winner goes on and the loser is out. That's as dramatic as it can get."
Deagle represented Nova Scotia at the Canadian junior championships in 2001 and has made three career appearances at the curling club nationals.
He never thought his gold medal last December in Ottawa would lead to an appearance at a nationally televised event in a 1,500-seat arena.
Deagle got word of the invite via email earlier this summer.
"Well that's pretty friggin' cool," he said of his reaction at the time. "You never expect that stuff ... (it's) wild."
His best friends and teammates, Jason van Vonderen, Rob Phillips and Ryan Sperry, will represent the Bridgewater Curling Club this week.
"One guy swings a hammer and I'm an electrician," Deagle said in a recent interview. "One works for the town and the other one is a teacher. So we're just all a bunch of normal guys from Nova Scotia."
Gushue is a 4 1/2-point favourite to win the first-round matchup on Thursday evening.
PointsBet also listed the St. John's skip as a -5000 moneyline pick (a bettor has to bet $5,000 to win $100) on Tuesday afternoon while Deagle was +900 (a victory on a $100 bet would generate a $1,000 total payout).
"Being ranked 16th and playing the No. 1, that makes no difference to me," Deagle said. "I think it's going to be a great time. There won't be anybody out there having more fun than me, I can guarantee you that."
Brendan Bottcher's new-look Calgary-based team, seeded second, will feature in the Wednesday evening draw against No. 15 Landan Rooney of Whitby, Ont.
PointsBet Canada was named the official sports betting partner of Curling Canada last October. A promotional push started last season and Ontario's sports betting market opened to major gaming operators in April.
For this competition, PointsBet Canada is awarding up to $1 million to any fan who can predict the perfect bracket (before a Wednesday noon ET deadline) as part of a free-to-play Sweep 16 bracket challenge.
Fredericton was slated to host the 2020 Canada Cup and last season's Continental Cup, but both events were cancelled due to the pandemic.
Notes: Teams must play a minimum eight ends before conceding. If a game is tied after 10 ends, a draw to the button will be used to determine the victor instead of a traditional extra end. ... A celebrity invitational draw is set for Friday night. Former NHL players Marc Methot and Shayne Corson, actor Pat Roach of Trailer Park Boys fame, rapper Classifed and Olympians Georgia Simmerling, Stephanie Labbé and Donovan Bailey will play in four-end games with select curlers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2022.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press