2019 World Champion Jennifer Jones will lead a North American side looking for its seventh straight title as the WFG Continental Cup heads back to Las Vegas.
All of the reigning World and Olympic curling champions will be under one roof for the 2019 World Financial Group Continental Cup, Jan. 17-20 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
And that array of superstars will be playing in a new format for this unique championship, which will be contested for the 15th time, and for the fourth time in Las Vegas.
Team North America will have a new coach - Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg - and a new captain - Pete Fenson of Bemidji, Minn. - in place in pursuit of a seventh straight victory in the four-day competition, which will see players competing in mixed doubles, team and skins competitions.
The North American squad will feature current Olympic men's champion John Shuster of Duluth, Minn., as well as current World women's champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg.
Team North America will be rounded out by Canada's 2018 Olympic teams skipped by Kevin Koe of Calgary and Rachel Homan of Ottawa, two-time defending Tim Hortons Brier champion Brad Gushue of St. John's, and with Jamie Sinclair's reigning U.S. women's champs. Sinclair hails from Manotick, Ont., but is eligible to play for the U.S.
For the first time, there will be an assistant coach added to each team's staff, with six-time Scotties champ Jill Officer of Winnipeg taking on those duties for Team North America. Officer was a member of Jones's world championship team last season and was a member of seven winning Team North America sides at the World Financial Group Continental Cup.
"I've got big shoes to fill as Rick Lang did an amazing job coaching Team North America for the past few years," admitted Stoughton. "But I've got a great team with me on the bench with Pete and Jill, and the talent that we'll put on the ice speaks for itself. I'm very excited to see what they can do in Las Vegas."
Team World is coming off perhaps its most crushing loss during this slump that dates back to its most recent victory, in 2012 at Langley, B.C.
Last January in London, Ont., each side finished with 30 points at the conclusion of the final round of skins competition. That forced a draw-to-the-button tiebreaker, with Team North America's Gushue getting the better of Team World's Thomas Ulsrud to claim the championship trophy.
Once again, Scotland's David Murdoch will serve as Team World Captain, while Fredrik Lindberg of Sweden will be the Coach, with the always-popular Christoffer Svae of Norway as the assistant coach.
Leading the charge for Team World will be Sweden's Anna Hasselborg and Niklas Edin, won the Olympic women's and World Men's championship last season respectively; Edin beat Gushue in the world men's final last April at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Rounding out Team World will be Scotland's Bruce Mouat (the world men's bronze-medallist) and Eve Muirhead, and Switzerland's Peter de Cruz (Olympic men's bronze-medallist) and Silvana Tirinzoni.
"We have a great lineup of teams and we hope to keep the excellent team spirit we created in London, Ont., last season and carry that forward as we came ever so close to regaining the Cup," said Murdoch. "We have a unique group of teams from only three countries, so this will help hugely with communication and dynamics. This is our time! Team North America will be strong but we want this more! We will bring our best and battle for every point to bring the Cup home!"
Once again, there will be 60 points available over the four days of competition, meaning the first side to reach 30.5 points will be declared 2019 World Financial Group champions.
But there will be some format changes this season:
There will be just two draws of traditional four-player team competition, reduced from six; each men's team and each women's will play one traditional team game, with each worth one point in the overall standings.
There will be four mixed doubles draws, increased from three. Each player will play a full mixed doubles game, and each of those games will be worth one point in the overall standings; in the past, some players only played half a game in mixed doubles.
New this season will be the Team Scramble. Men's and women's teams will be mixed up to form new same-gender lineups, with the kicker that front-end and back-end teammates can't stay together. For example, skip Brad Gushue and vice-skip Mark Nichols can't be on the same team, but Gushue and second Brett Gallant can be. There will be one men's Team Scramble draw and one women's Team Scramble, with each game worth one point in the overall standings.
Also new this season will be the Mixed Team Scramble - one draw of traditional mixed team play, with at least one team from each side skipped by a female. Each game will be worth two points in the overall standings.
The closing day of the World Financial Group Continental Cup will feature two rounds of Skins competition, with each game worth five points in the overall standings.
At stake will be a purse of $130,000, with $84,500 going to the winning side.
Full event ticket packages, along with ticket/accommodation packages, are available at www.curling.ca/2019continentalcup/tickets/. As always, tickets and rooms are going fast in the Entertainment Capital of the World!
Additionally, volunteers are now being recruited for the competition. Go to www.lasvegascurling.rocks/volunteer for more information.