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(Al) Hackner to skip for Saskatoon in new pro league.


Two-time Brier champion Al Hackner will skip the Saskatoon franchise in a new eight-city professional curling league, Curling International. The Thunder Bay curler will be joined by three other skips on what he warns will be either a very successful rink or a failure.

"You never really know until you get onto a rink whether an `all-star' type of team will work out or not," Hackner said. "Then, it either clicks or it doesn't.

"Some of the other teams are teams from outside the league, like Russ Howard's, but we're a team of four skips," he said. "I just don't know how that'll work out."

Hackner, a member of the Red Rock First Nation of Nipigon, Ont., will be joined by lead Eugene Hritik, second Arnold Asham and third Brad Heidt, all of whom skip their own rinks in regular competition and cash spiels. The league is a new concept, with teams representing cities.

"I think it's a good idea," Hackner said. "It's sort of an offshoot of the competitive bonspiels we play now -- right now it's much like the pro golf tour, with winnings accumulating during the season.

"The cash spiels have been fixed at between $50,000 and $60,000 for a few years, so maybe this is a way to change that," he continued. "There are going to be some new rules that we don't play be now, and that should make the league interesting."

The first competitive action will be at the start of November with the host Edmonton Freeze taking on teams from the other seven cities. Hackner's Saskatoon franchise will host the second competition in February, and the league will wrap up in Anaheim, California, after that.

Other cities involved will be New York, Chicago, Detroit, Winnipeg (which will be represented by Jeff Stoughton, the current world title holder) and Vancouver. Fans will be able to see all of curling's stars, including Pat Ryan, Kevin Martin, Russ Howard, Rick Folk and Don Walchuk.

Hackner has represented Northern Ontario eight times at the Labatt Brier, the Canadian men's curling championship. He tasted immediate success at his first one in 1980, losing in the final to Saskatchewan's Rick Folk. In 1982, he defeated Brad Giles of B.C. in the final for his first championship, then won again in 1985, over Pat Ryan of Alberta. Over the years, his team has changed, as all curling teams do, but he's curled with his third, Rick Lang, for 13 years, a very long time in curling circles.

Born in Nipigon, Hackner began curling in the northern Ontario town when he was 15 years old. His father had curled while Al was growing up, so he was familiar with the game.

"I spent a lot of time hanging around the curling rink," he said. "In Nipigon, there's the curling rink and the hockey rink. That's about it.

"We curled that first year with my father, my brother and I, when my brother was 14 and I was 15," he continued. "That was that. I've curled ever since."

Hackner moved to Thunder Bay at 18, and immediately took up the sport there.

"I was just old enough to curl with the men when I moved to Thunder Bay," he said. "We had a good young rink, and we did pretty well." Six years later, Hackner was Northern Ontario champion and on his way to his first Brier. He's lived in Thunder Bay ever since -- 24 years -- and has worked for CN Rail for the last 22 as a switchman, brakeman and conductor.

He's been in the spotlight for a long time as a successful, highprofile Canadian athlete, but his treaty status is relatively unknown. Hackner doesn't mention it unless asked.

"It's never been a particular problem or a particular bonus," he said. "The fact that I'm an Indian is a fact. It's up front. I joke about it sometimes -- when I make a good shot, I say that Manitou was helping me with that one, but generally it hasn't affected me much either way. It's not a big deal with my friends."
COPYRIGHT 1996 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:R. John Hayes
Publication:Wind Speaker
Date:Nov 1, 1996
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