Blessed with a new knee, Rob Armitage now has a new lease on his curling life.
The Red Deer skip, an Alberta and Canadian senior men’s champion in 2012 and a world champ a year later, is in charge of one of 15 rinks competing in the Southern Alberta Curling Association senior men’s playdowns which opened Friday at the Pidherney Centre.
“I wouldn’t be playing now if I hadn’t undergone surgery (in August),” said Armitage, following an opening-draw 6-2 win over Neil Gerrish of Calgary Inglewood.
“I took two years off (of competitive curling) after we won worlds. My knee was just gone,” continued the veteran skip, who has 50-year-old Wade Thurber at third, Randy Ponich at second and Keith Glover tossing lead stones. “It doesn’t bother me now except it swells up once in a while. But I don’t know if that’s caused by curling because I still work for a living.
“I’m confident that I’ll be OK this weekend.”
Despite his knee problems Armitage continued to curl over the past two years, in a once-a-week men’s league at the Pidherney Centre. Following his surgery, he was back on the ice in mid-October and decided to take another shot at winning a provincial title.
The foursome practised regularly and warmed up for the southerns will a handful of games in January.
“It’s nice to be throwing rocks (in practice) but you need that game pressure to get your hands and fingers thinking together,” said Armitage.
His current rink is similar to his 2012 and ‘13 foursomes, the lone exception in personnel being Thurber. When the team captured the world crown, Glover was throwing third stones and Ponich and Wilf Edgar were manning the second and lead positions, respectively.
Edgar is currently skipping Rick Hjertaas’ Red Deer rink in the Southern Alberta finals. The other Red Deer entry is skipped by Lowell Peterman.
The SACA field is filled with familiar faces, including the likes of Ed Lukowich, Terry Meek, Wayne Heikkinen and Mickey Pendergast, all of Calgary, and Paul Gowsell of Airdrie.
“It’s a tough field, there aren’t a lot of pushovers here,” said Armitage.
The former Canadian and world senior men’s champ likes his team’s odds of grabbing one of the three available berths in the provincial finals, set for Feb. 17-21 at Coaldale.
“With this being on our home ice, I really like our chances,” he said. “I’d have to think we would be as co-favoured as anybody.
“The same goes for the other Red Deer teams. They’re going to be tough on their home ice.”
The Armitage crew is taking dead aim this weekend at earning a berth in the provincials and from there, who knows. There is a sense of urgency for at least three of the curlers, who are entering now-or-never territory.
“It would be great to experience some of the success we had three and four years ago. It was a fun time,” said Armitage.
“But it won’t be easy. The window for seniors doesn’t stay open for very long. Keith is 59 and Randy and I are 58. Keith will be eligible for masters next year and Randy and I the year after.”
Armitage advanced to today’s 10 a.m. A-event semifinals with a 3-2 win over Duncan Chisholm of Calgary in Friday’s evening draw. The Red Deer foursome will face Lloyd Hill of Calgary, who was a 9-1 winner over Blaine Zubot of Cochrane and later downed Bryan Hill of Airdrie 6-3.
Peterman will take on Lukowich in the other A semifinal after posting a pair of convincing wins — 6-3 over Gowsell and 8-2 over Meek in the 7 p.m. draw. Lukowich advanced with 5-4 and 6-3 victories over Ian Wolsey of Lethbridge and Tarance Zak of Calgary.
The Hjertaas foursome opened with a 5-4 loss to Chisholm, then defeated Gerrish 8-2 in a B-event contest.
The A final goes at 3 p.m. today, with the B-event provincial qualifier set for Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and the C-event final scheduled for Monday at 1:30 p.m.
Other scores Friday:
A event, 2 p.m. — Lloyd Hill 9 Zubot 1; Bryan Hill 7 Rick Bishop, Calgary 3; Meek 8 Scott Hellwig, Calgary 5.
B event, 7 p.m. — Bishop 7 Zubot 3; Gowsell 6 Wolsey 5.