Online poker player bringing a fresh look at the Olympic curling trials

Move over Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey. There's a new fan favourite emerging at the Canadian Olympic curling trials.

EDMONTON - Move over Kevin Martin and Randy Ferbey. There's a new fan favourite emerging at the Canadian Olympic curling trials.

Jason Gunnlaugson is a 25-year-old, baby-faced skip with long shaggy hair who lists his occupation as an online poker player. And while he's considered an underdog to win a berth in the Vancouver Olympics, he is generating the most buzz this week in Edmonton.

Gunnlaugson, who lives in Winnipeg but curls out of the Beausejour Curling Club, snagged a spot in the trials at the pre-trials tournament in Prince George, B.C., last month.

He's only been skipping for a year but his boyish looks and confident swagger have made him a favourite with the fans at Rexall Place.

"As a huge curling fan myself I'm just so happy I get to watch and the front row seats are going to be amazing," he said Monday. "It will be easy to keep focused on the game but in between ends you're going to be looking over and saying holy crap these guys are good."

Gunnlaugson says he has been learning from the veteran Canadian skips for years.

"Being the curling nerd I am we've been picking the brains of these guys for years and they probably thought 'Oh just some kids and now they're going to have to play us,"' he added. "We're just some kids expected by some to go 0-7 or 1-6. We just get to go surprise somebody."

Winnipeg's Jeff Stoughton has known Gunnlaugson since he was a kid. His uncle Garry Van Den Berghe was a Stoughton teammate for 15 years.

"He grew up with our team and his dad curled with me for a couple of years so he practised with our men's team when he was 10 or 12 years old," said Stoughton. "So we grew up with Jason and he's going to be phenomenal.

"He is so passionate about the game and I think it's great for the game and it's going to be a lot of fun for him this week."

Fans at Rexall Place were torn in the opening draw Sunday when the young gun took on Edmonton's Martin, who was already skipping for a year before Gunnlaugson was born. Martin actually found himself trailing the youngster before taking the lead in the seventh end and winning 7-5.

"Did you hear that?" chuckled Martin. "The crowd loves them and we all knew they would. The crowd was so hoping he'd make the double in the sixth and if he does the place would have just erupted.

"They're the future of the game and they're going to win some games this week."

Gunnlaugson came into the week using two teams for his inspiration.

"I take inspiration from Brad Gushue and Mike Harris not being the favourite and still winning," he said. "I think it shows when you put everybody in this crazy fishbowl that this wonderful event is that anything can happen."

Gushue prevailed at the last trials and went on to win the gold medal at the 2006 Turin Games while Harris represented Canada in 1998 in Nagano and came home with the silver.

The men's champion at the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Curling Trials, presented by Monsanto, will be crowned on Sunday.

 
 
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