Team Cotter celebrate their victory in the Tier 2 final of the Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge in Paradise

Team Cotter celebrate their victory in the Tier 2 final of the Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling Tour Challenge in Paradise

Starry rinks chasing $54,000

Some of the world's top rinks are chasing $54,000 at the Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic.

In between greeting teams here for the $54,000 Prestige Hotels & Resorts Curling Classic, Olympic ice maker Dave Merklinger was trying to recruit one more player for his own rink.

The colourful Vernon Curling Club manager had lined up Kevin Geistlinger at third and John Slattery at lead at press time Thursday.

“My second is to be announced,” deadpanned Merklinger, who opens the men’s side against Dean Joanisse of New Westminster.

“I’m a senior so our strategy will be a nice soft game with lots of draws and gentle takeouts, just like my chipping on the golf course.”

Joanisse, who has former Salmon Arm productPaul Cseke at third, claimed $2,600 after dispatching Chase Martyn of New West in the Cloverdale Cashspiel two weekends ago. Martyn is also in the Vernon spiel.

Joanisse will try and copy Grant Dezura of Maple Ridge, who rolled the Cloverdale-Vernon double last year.

The men’s event opens today at 4:30 p.m. Vernon phenom Jim Cotter – the 2012 Prestige winner – is one of four teams to receive a first-round bye, thanks to their points total on the World Curling Tour.

Cotter’s crew of Ryan Kuhn, Ty Griffith and Rick Sawatsky, play Friday night at 9:30 versus the winner of a game between Dezura and Vernon’s youthful foursome of Thomas Love, who is backed by third Erik Colwell, second Brendan Chapple and lead Johnathan Schwartz.

The men’s field also includes current Canadian champion Pat Simmons of Calgary (with former Cotter member John Morris at third). Simmons also received a bye, as did Brady Clark of  Seattle and Yusuke Morozumi of Japan.

The Simmons rink, which sees Nolan Thiessen and Carter Rycroft run the front end, will sign curling cards and talk curling with students at Okanagan Landing Elementary Friday morning.

The men’s purse is $17,000 with the champion pocketing $5,000. The final goes Monday at noon.

A total of 28 women’s teams will compete for $37,000 in prize money. First draw went Thursday night.

Defending champion Ayumi Ogasawara of Sapporo, Japan, who knocked off Edmonton’s Val Sweeting in the 2014 Classic final, heads the field.

Three-time event winner Cheryl Bernard of Calgary is returning as is 2006 winner, multiple-B.C. champ Kelly Scott of Kelowna.

The field also includes 2006 Olympic bronze medalist and 2008 Prestige winner Shannon Kleibrink of Calgary and Scotties Tournament of Hearts national championship participants Patti Knezevic of Prince George (reigning B.C. women’s champ), Stefanie Lawton and Michelle Englot of Saskatchewan, and former Canadian Junior champion Corryn Brown of Kamloops.

Diane Gushulak of New West comes in hot after taking the Cloverdale title over Knezevic. That win was worth $2,600.

Eight rinks will qualify for the playoffs with the women’s final going Sunday at 3 p.m. A total of 28 women’s teams will compete for $37,000 in prize money. The winner earns $7,500 and the runner-up collects $5,500.

Ogasawara shocked the field last year by brushing back Sweeting 5-4 in the final. Sweeting had clipped Ogasawara 7-6 in an extra end, in the opening draw of preliminary play.

ICE CHIPS: All teams tossed practice rocks Thursday and most attended an evening sponsors social Thursday…Vernon’s Jamie Sexton will throw third rocks for Vancouver’s Stephen Schneider…Tournament passes are $30, and a day pass is $10…The public gets free admission to Saturday’s final 7 p.m. draw and are welcome to stay for the dance, featuring music from The Noble Crew…Each preliminary round win is worth $100 on the women’s draw…Calgary rinks have won six of the last women’s titles..Cotter’s daughter, Jaelyn, is third for Vernon’s Winter Harvey foursime.