A new format will see 14 rinks in the hunt Saturday when the Canadian mixed curling championship begins in Sudbury, Ont.
For the first time Nunavut will be represented at the event. Teams will also battle not to finish among the bottom four rinks to avoid a playoff next year.
"It's the first time so we will see how it goes,'' said Ontario's Rachel Homan, the 2010 Canadian junior women's champion, who will be playing third for brother, Mark Homan.
"It's going to be a long week but it always is. Whether we play an extra game here or there it doesn't really make much of a difference.''
Traditionally, 12 rinks compete at a major curling championship. In the past the 10 provinces plus Northern Ontario sent teams.
The Northwest Territories and Yukon would play off to select one rink. Nunavut wasn't represented.
Danny Lamoureux of the Canadian Curling Association said the new format was approved two years ago and will allow all the provinces and territories access to most championships.
"Normally we would have had a playoff for the last two spots,'' said Lamoureux, the CCA's director of championship services and curling club development. "But the Sudbury Curling Club was kind enough to open up another sheet of ice to give us five sheets.
"That enables us to get all 14 teams to play together.''
The tournament will return to 12 rinks next year. The four teams with the worst records from this year's event will meet in a double-knockout playoff prior to next year's competition.
The top two will advance to round-robin play.
Lamoureux said most venues make four sheets of ice available for competitions. Having 14 teams compete created problems.
"A 14-team round-robin would take an extra three days to play under normal situations,'' he said. "That would mean teams are gone for two weeks to national championships.
"That just wasn't something anybody was willing to digest. We wanted to keep the sanctity of the 12-team round robin. This was the option they came up with to keep that but still give everybody a chance.''
The team that represents a province or territory can change from year to year. This could result in a good rink being forced to play extra games because of a weaker one's performance the year before.
"That good team, if they are good, should survive the pre-qualifying round,'' said Lamoureux.
The new format with a four-team playoff prior to the round-robin will also be used at this year's Canadian seniors and next year's Canadian junior championships. The bottom four teams will be identified by the win-loss record from the previous three years.
No decision has been made on whether the format will be implemented at the Brier or Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
"It's still under consideration what's going to happen there,'' said Lamoureux. "It's probably going to be considered this summer.''
This year's mixed champion will be crowned Nov. 19. The first-place team after the round robin advances directly to the final. The second and third-place teams meet in a semifinal.
Robert Campbell's rink from P.E.I. won last year's title with a 4-3 victory over Manitoba's Terry McNamee.
Homan, a world junior silver medallist, said she's looking forward to playing third on her brother's rink.
"It's going to be different strategies with a different team,'' she said.
"I'm excited to have a little bit less stress. I don't have to throw the last rock any more.''
The 22-year-old Homan has played on her 32-year-old brother's rink in other bonspiels. Being family doesn't mean the two haven't disagreed.
"I think with family you might fight even more,'' she said with a laugh. "We get along really well.
"My dad is coming down this weekend. He's pretty excited to watch both his kids play. We want to hopefully make him proud and win it all for him.''
Other skips competing in the 49th edition of the mixed championship include past winners Kurt Balderston of Alberta, who won in 1992, and Manitoba’s Sean Grassie, who took the title in 2009.
Brett Gallant of P.E.I. was the 2009 Canadian junior men's champion.
Sylvie Robichaud of New Brunswick, a former provincial junior and women’s champion, is attempting to become only the second female to win the mixed even as a skip.
Past mixed championships have been won by curlers like Jeff Stoughton, Rick Folk, Rick Lang, Kevin Koe, Mark Dacey, and Shannon Kleibrink, who became the first woman to win the title in 2004.
Next year’s championship will be held in Montreal.