Cotter stoked for WCT event in Kelowna

Jim Cotter will feel right at home in the World Curling Tour's stop, Dec. 12-16, at Prospera Place in Kelowna.

Vernon's Jim Cotter will compete in the Grand Slam event at Prospera Place in Kelowna.

Vernon's Jim Cotter will compete in the Grand Slam event at Prospera Place in Kelowna.

Jim Cotter’s Vernon-based curling rink has travelled far and wide to attend World Curling Tour events, including the four Grand Slam of Curling cashspiels with their large $100,000 purses.

But for the first time ever Cotter and his rink, which includes Kelowna curlers Tyrel Griffith and Rick Sawatsky, will have the chance to play at Prospera Place in Kelowna at the World Curling Tour’s Grand Slam of Curling, Dec. 12-16.

It will be the first time Prospera Place has played host to a bonspiel in its history.

“This is fabulous,” said Cotter, after claiming the WCT’s Prestige Hotels Classic in Vernon. “When we heard it was a possibility it was going to be in Kelowna, we were all extremely excited. We have lots of family and friends around the area. It’s nice to play close by. Generally we are flying all over the country. To be able to play at home is fantastic and hopefully we qualify (final eight) for it.”

The Kelowna event will be the second leg of the Grand Slam of Curling, which will feature the top 18 rinks in the world, according to the WCT rankings.

After losing longtime third Kevin Folk, Cotter is ranked 18th in the world but is expected to pick up more points before the Kelowna event to qualify. He picked up Winnipeg’s Jason (The Gunner) Gunnlaugson to replace Folk.

Top rinks like Kevin Martin of Alberta, Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba, Ontario’s Glen Howard and Brad Gushue of Newfoundland/Labrador all reside within the top-16 and should be among a star-studded field in Kelowna.

“To have an event like this in Kelowna is big,” said Sawatsky. “As far as the calibre of teams and the play, this area might never see an event of this magnitude again. These are the best teams in the world. The shot-making you will see from these guys is amazing.”

The ability of Prospera Place to host a large curling event came down to timing.

The Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets will play at home Dec. 8 before hitting the road and allowing the WCT to move in and take over from Dec. 9 until the event begins on Dec. 12.

“What made it work is the timing,” said Prospera general manager Wayne Pansegrau. “The Rockets are on their Eastern swing and there is no conflict with the hockey team. Before there has always been a scheduling problem. It’s been hard to get high-profile curling events in the past.”

The Grand Slam of Curling is a week-long event, while the Canadian men’s and women’s championships go a full two weeks, which has kept Prospera from being able to host a large bonspiel.

Pansegrau says this Grand Slam event should be exciting for the building and for the city.

“We have a few people in our building that have worked curling events in Victoria,” he said. “But I would say 95 per cent of our staff haven’t worked it.

“Its exciting for Kelowna. If we show well and Kelowna supports this event, we potentially could get something like the Scott Tournament of Hearts or bonspiels that are a bigger deal.”

Staff at Prospera Place will hand over the controls to the WCT officials, who will be in charge of ice-making and set-up. Sawatsky says top ice makers will ensure that the ice is great and allow the curlers to do what they do best.

“The icemaker for the tour has been able to go into any arena and transform it from hockey to curling ice that is just unbelievable,” he said. “It’s fast and consistent and it curls a ton so it’s really entertaining for the people. You can make any shot. It’s good for the fans to be able to watch what the guys can do and showcase their talents.”

Tickets are available through Select Your Tickets. Fans can buy a 12-draw pass, including tiebreaker, for $125, or a playoff pass for $37.50.