04/16/2013 06:34 EDT | Updated 06/16/2013 05:12 EDT

National champ Brad Jacobs among contenders at season-ending TPC curling event

TORONTO - As national champions, Ryan Fry knows the opposition will be gunning to beat his Northern Ontario rink at this week's Players' Championship.

He teamed with skip Brad Jacobs, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden to win their first Tim Hortons Brier last month and they followed it up with a silver medal at the world championship. They're well-rested now after a whirlwind month and will be one of the favourites at this week's season-ending Players' Championship at the Mattamy Athletic Centre.

Fry said the Sault Ste. Marie-based teammates was overwhelmed by the local support and love from curling fans across the country during their recent run in the spotlight. He added they also learned a lot from the experience.

"You've got to check your egos a little bit more, which I think we all learned how to do," he said after a practice session Tuesday. "You just learn how little of a margin for error there is to competing against teams that want something as badly as you do."

The Canadians dropped an 8-6 decision to Sweden's Niklas Edin in the championship game in Victoria. It's always tough to settle for silver, but Fry is confident his rink can use it as a building block for the future.

"In a lot of the cash tournaments we play, you're not getting the best games out of everyone all the time," he said. "But when you go to a world championship and you see the desire these guys have just to beat Canada, it's motivating for me just to be able to know that you have to be at that high of a level to give yourselves a shot to ultimately be the best team in the world for a year."

Jacobs and crew posted impressive must-win victories over Scotland and Denmark just to qualify for the final.

"That Saturday that we had there was unbelievable," Fry said. "That's probably one of the coolest days I've had in curling in my life and then we just fell a little short in the final.

"So that's curling but it was a great experience all around."

The next goal for the Northern Ontario side is qualifying for the Olympic trials — the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings — in December.

Jacobs can lock up a berth in the eight-team men's event with a victory. He also has a chance to qualify if he doesn't reach the final, but it depends on the results of other rinks this week.

Ontario's Glenn Howard, Alberta's Kevin Martin and Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton have already qualified. Three more spots — based on the Canadian Team Ranking System standings — will be finalized this week.

The final two berths will be awarded at the pre-trials competition in November at Kitchener, Ont.

Edin, Howard, Martin, Stoughton are all in the field for this week's competition at the former site of Maple Leaf Gardens. There are 15 men's teams and 15 women's teams entered with play to begin Tuesday night.

Fry practised on his own Tuesday at the five-sheet facility. His teammates were scheduled to arrive in the evening ahead of their opening game Wednesday afternoon.

Fry said he likes the idea of having a target on its back as a national champion.

"Yeah I do," he said. "I like being part of the boys' club too. I was tired of all the other teams, to be honest with you, walking around and having the Brier championship. I felt like I was part of that group to begin with and it's just nice to have a title to somewhat prove it — that we do belong in that league."

The women's field is as deep as the men's competition.

World champion Eve Muirhead of Scotland is one of the headliners along with national champion Rachel Homan of Ottawa and veterans Jennifer Jones of Manitoba and Heather Nedohin of Alberta.

Jones secured direct entry into the women's draw of the Olympic trials with her win at the 2011 Canada Cup. Lawton won that event last year to secure her spot and Nedohin locked up a berth by leading the CTRS standings last season.

A combined event purse of $200,000 is on the line at this week's bonspiel. An additional Grand Slam combined bonus of $200,000 will also be awarded.

Toronto's John Epping upset Howard in last year's TPC men's final in Summerside, P.E.I. Saskatoon's Stefanie Lawton defeated Winnipeg's Cathy Overton-Clapham for the women's crown.

Preliminary-round play continues through Friday. The quarter-finals and semifinals are on tap Saturday and the finals are set for Sunday.

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