TORONTO - A lineup featuring five top Canadian rinks and eight international teams headed to the Olympics make this week's Grey Power World Cup of Curling event ideal preparation for the Vancouver Games.
At least that's the way former world champions Kevin Martin of Edmonton and Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont., see the 14-team bonspiel that starts Wednesday at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga, Ont.
No other event - including the Canadian curling trials which run Dec. 6-13 in Edmonton - will simulate Olympic competition quite like this one, they say.
"It's a good dry run almost for everybody ... being able to go through a round robin against the same teams you will be meeting, with their whole entourage behind them," Martin said Monday on a conference call. "I think that's going to be a very important thing for all of us, to run through this event as if it is in Vancouver, and I think everybody is thinking that way."
Added Howard: "It's going to be a great Olympic feel because you're pretty much playing the same teams, the difference being it's going to be better competition because you now have five Canadian entries as opposed to just the one that's going to go represent us in Vancouver."
Joining Martin, the 2002 Olympic silver medallist, and Howard are fellow 2010 hopefuls Brad Gushue of St. John's, N.L., the '06 Olympic champion, Randy Ferbey and fellow Edmontonian Kevin Koe.
The international Olympic qualifiers competing include: reigning world champion David Murdoch (Scotland); Thomas Ulsrud (Norway); Andreas Kapp (Germany); '06 Olympic bronze medallist John Shuster (U.S.); Fengchun Wang (China); Niklas Edin (Sweden); Thomas Dufour (France); and Ulrik Schmidt (Denmark).
Switzerland will send one of its two 2010 hopefuls to the event to round out the field.
The elite international element is what intrigues Martin, and he believes the best rinks around the world need to play each other more often.
"I think over the last 10 or 15 years, the gap between international teams in general and Canada hasn't widened, it's gotten tighter," said Martin. "So I think these events are important - and we need more of them. We want to see them bring their best at us and see where we stand."
Howard feels becoming more familiar with international teams will only help the Canadian teams at big events like the Olympics and world championships.
"You want to know what you're up against. If they hide behind the ocean, and we have no idea how good they're playing, how good they are, there's that unknown and there's nothing worse than that," he said.
"If they come over here more, and we see them more, we get more comfortable playing them, we see what they have, and we see where we rank among them. It's not measurable until we get a chance to see them."