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Saskatoon Brier royalty will be cheering on teams at this weekend's provincial qualifier, the Tankard

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Saskatchewan’s best curlers are in Saskatoon for the 2024 SaskTel Men’s Tankard at the Nutana Curling Club.

There’s a lot on the line with the winner earning a spot in the Brier.

There are high hopes this year as Saskatchewan has had a Brier drought for more than four decades.

This is the first time The Tankard has been held in Saskatoon since 1980.

“It was a wonderful year and was a long time ago,” said Jim Wilson, who curled out of the Nutana club and played lead on Rick Folk’s team.

That team won the Tankard that year and went all the way to win the Canadian title. It’s the last time a Saskatchewan team has done so.

“There were a lot of teams to get through. We made it to the Brier with a 9-2 record and beat Al Hackner in the final,” Wilson said.

Success for that championship team didn’t end there.

“We went on to the World’s and went through and were 10 and 0,” he said.

With that crowning glory, it’s no exaggeration that this Saskatoon team has worn the reigning Saskatchewan Brier crown for a long time.

Wilson said, some things have stayed the same in the game of curling, while a lot has changed.

“The good clothing and the look, they look like athletes. When I was playing, maybe somewhat, maybe not,” he said.

Even with that difference, he said the level of competition is about the same.

The closure of clubs like Saskatoon’s the Granite, which hosted that 1980 Tankard created the potential for more teams competing.

At least 12 teams are vying to qualify for the Brier this week including the returning champion -- Regina’s team Knapp and Steve Laycock who has won five times.

“We’ve got 12 solid teams, but certainly the top four are the ones people are going to try to knock off,” said Darrell McKee, co-chair of 2024 Tankard.

150 volunteers will pull this six-day event off and they’re getting ready for up to 400 spectators.

This event has typically been in an arena, not a curling rink, which affected the setup significantly.

“We’ve put bleachers on both sides so it’s going to be a really awesome experience for the people on the ice because you’ll be closer to curlers than when in an arena because there’s no rink boards separating them,” he said.

A new addition this year is an impressive trophy detailing all the past winners of the Tankard, dating back to 1927 and it’s expected to garner a lot of attention this weekend according to Steve Turner, the Executive Director of CURLSASK.

“We can honour that history and embrace it because there’s so many stories to be told from that trophy alone,” he said.

The Trophy will be on display at the Nutana for the duration of the event and Turner hopes people get up close to look at the nearly 100 years of names.

He hoped it will get covered in fingerprints from the attention.

Wilson said he is hoping Saskatchewan can update his Brier win from 43 years ago.

“I’ll be cheering hard for them.”

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