Rob Armitage of Red Deer makes a shot against the Brock Virtue rink from Calgary during the Red Deer Curling Classic on Saturday.

Rob Armitage of Red Deer makes a shot against the Brock Virtue rink from Calgary during the Red Deer Curling Classic on Saturday.

Virtue rink defeats Red Deer’s Armitage in curling classic

Brock Virtue and his supporting cast have revved up their engines recently as they attempt to join the World Curling Tour’s elite and also prepare for the upcoming Alberta provincial playdowns and their ultimate goal — a berth in the 2012 Brier.

Better late than never.

Brock Virtue and his supporting cast have revved up their engines recently as they attempt to join the World Curling Tour’s elite and also prepare for the upcoming Alberta provincial playdowns and their ultimate goal — a berth in the 2012 Brier.

“We’re kind of winding up our WCT season right now. We started slow but have built up over the last few weeks,” Virtue said Saturday, after posting an 8-3, seven-end win over Red Deer’s Rob Armitage in an A-event qualifier of the Red Deer Curling Classic.

“We feel like we’re kind of getting to where we need to be right now and we’re really happy with how we’ve been playing recently.”

Virtue captured Canadian and world junior men’s championships while tossing third stones for Alberta skip Charley Thomas in 2007. His current third, JD Lind, coached the Thomas rink that year and current lead Matthew Ng was also with the junior champions.

And to truly make it old-home week, Kyle Reynolds, another member of the 2007 junior juggernaut, is filling in Ng during the Classic.

“This is our second year as a team,” said Virtue, who also has Dominic Daemen at second. “Most of us have played together for seven or eight years and we’re best friends on and off the ice, which really helps.”

Virtue, who lives and works in Lethbridge while his team is based out of Calgary, skipped the foursome to a fourth-place finish at the 2011 Alberta men’s finals. The road to the provincials was anything but easy, with the team qualifying out of the C event at the southern Alberta playdowns.

“We were on our last legs and we were kind of down in the dumps,” said Virtue. “And then we brought it back by winning a couple in a row to get to provincials.”

Already guaranteed of a Curling Classic cheque after qualifying for Monday’s playoffs, Virtue and his crew have competed in six World Tour events this season and sit 19th on the money list with earnings of $12,000.

“I’m really happy with how we’ve kind of turned our season around,” said the skip. “At the beginning we were a little shaky. But we’ve worked hard this season on both our curling ability and mental ability. We’re working on every aspect of the game to try and make ourselves as good as we can be.”

While the likes of Edmonton rinks skipped by Randy Ferbey, Kevin Martin and — to a lesser extent — Kevin Koe have ruled the province for more than a decade, Virtue sees a light at the end of the tunnel for southern teams.

“I definitely see the potential in southern Alberta curling and probably one of the most important factors is the development of training centres,” he said. “The talk on the street in Lethbridge is that there will be a year-round training facility built there. That would be amazingly helpful to our teams in the south. It’s an advantage having the Saville Centre in Edmonton and to be able to train there starting in the summer.”

In the other two A-event men’s qualifiers at the Red Deer Curling Centre, Kevin Park of Edmonton scored a last-rock, 7-5 win over Steve Petryk of Calgary and Edmonton’s Jamie King edged Liu Rui of China 7-6.

The three B-event qualifiers go at 12:15 today, with the C qualifiers set for 7 p.m. The playoff round starts Monday morning and both the men’s and women’s final will begin at 3 p.m.

Meanwhile, Rachel Homan of Ottawa and Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni qualified for the women’s division playoffs, with Homan downing Kelley Law of New Westminster 8-6 and Tirinzoni slipping past Allison MacInnes of Kamloops 7-5 in the A-event finals.

The women’s three B-event qualifying finals are set for today at 3:30 p.m, with the three C qualifiers to follow at 7 p.m.

Scores Saturday:

Men

8 a.m. — A event: Petryk 7 Heidt 5; Park 9 Cross 5; King 6 White 4; Virtue 6 Appelman 3; B event: Kennedy 5 Moch 2; Pescia 6 Wood 3; Schwaller 7 Ross 5; Koe 6 Blandford 3.

2:30 p.m. ­ — A event: King 7 Rui 6; Park 7 Petryk 5; Virtue 8 Armitage 3; B event: Bawel 5 Montgomery 4; Appelman 8 Schwaller 6; Elder 8 Kennedy 3; Pescia 7 White 5; Heidt 9 Schen 8; Koe 6 Cross 3; C event: Ross 5 Moulding 4; Moch 7 Wood 3; Blandford 8 Manners 6.

Women

8 a.m. — B event: Sonnenberg 4 Scott 3; Chyz 9 Snell 4; Kaufman 9 Owen 2; Scheidegger 8 Thurston 1.

11:15 a.m. — A event: Law 7 Bernard 4; Homan 7 Ott 5; MacInnes 6 Doyle 1; Tirinzoni 7 Webster 2; B event: Nedohin 5 Doroshuk 3; Eyamie 7 Barber 3; Jones 4 Overton-Clapham 3; Holland 10 Kleibrink 8; C event: Carey 7 Ogasawara 1; Odegard 8 DeJong 5; Galusha 7 Nimik 2; Sweeting 5 Pickering 4.

5:45 p.m. – A event: Homan 8 Law 6; Tirinzoni 7 MacInnes 5; B event: Kaufman 5 Doyle 3; Ott 9 Chyz 0; Nedohin 4 Eyamie 3; Jones 8 Webster 2; Bernard 5 Holland 4; Sonnenberg 5 Scheidegger 4.

gmeachem@bprda.wpengine.com