KILLARNEY — There's nothing left now but the playing at the Manitoba Scotties Tournament of Hearts.
The banquet's been devoured, drink tickets cashed in, people screamed obscenities in unison at a television set during a World Junior Hockey overtime throughout the town.
Yes, even hockey can trump curling at the highest level sometimes.
But that's over now.
The teams have all thrown their final practise rocks in preparation for a week-long grind that will determine Manitoba's second representative (Jennifer Jones is the second) at the Canadian Scotties Tournament of Hearts slated for Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Here are some early observations from the swanky new Shamrock Centre, a facility that proves even with civic infighting that costs a town its mayor in mid term that some fights are worth the price.
Three time Manitoba champion Barb Spencer (2009, 2003, 1986) opens the championship as the top seed, and as Resby Coutts at The Curler points out, with a 15-3 Scotties record in two seasons, she deserves the ranking.
She deserves respect for that record, but that's no inidcation of what can happen when 12 teams of the 16 can legitimately contend if the cards fall the right way for them.
This year's field includes no less than five former Manitoba champions who now skip teams of their own.
Of those five, Janet Harvey (2006, 1997, 1990) would stand the best chance to get another title if she weren't in the round robin pool best described as the Group of Death.
Red Group includes Harvey, 2009 playoff qualifier Chelsea Carey, former Manitoba champion Jill Thurston (2006, 2000), and hometown favourite Lisa Blixhavn, who missed the playoffs last year with a 5-2 record. Four other teams are also in this mix, as 2001 Manitoba champion Karen Rosser joins Linda Stewart, Shauna Streich and Kari Goethe round out the squad.
Also notable? Both Streich and Blixhavn are both more than five months pregnant and will play anyway, though if Blixhavn has to sit out, she's in the best spot as five-time playoff qualifier Kristy Jenion is her fifth.
The Black Group is arguably the easier of the two pools, but it is far from the free space on the bingo card.
Spencer leads the pool that includes 2009 finalist and 2002 provincial women's champ Karen Fallis (formerly Porritt), 2008 playoff qualifier Terry Ursel, playoff contenders Liza Park and Kim Link, an up-and-comer in Kaileigh Strath, 2009-10 Manitoba Curling Tour champion Joelle Brown and the unknown Tannis Fortin of The Pas.
Making a prediction is next to impossible.
That's never stopped me before.
At the end of this week, it won't be Spencer, even though her 2-9 record at last year's Canadians — Manitoba's worst-ever result — gives her all the motivation she'll need to win.
Harvey will earn another Manitoba Buffalo crest, though serious dark horse consideration has to go to Thurston. The team that wins the Group of Death will be the most battle-tested team here this week and deserving of Manitoba's crown.
Whether any of them can make the playoffs at a Canadian championship is a debate for another day.
For now, the question is simple. Will there be a six-way tie for first place in either round robin pool? And will I need an extra day's hotel stay while they sort that out?
Manitoba Scotties coverage will also be available in the Brandon Sun and on Twitter via KBOCURLING.