Two of Switzerland's top skips whirled up a storm of controversy heading into this weekend's European Curling Championships in Basel, Switzerland.
Andreas Schwaller shocked the men's field earlier this week when he removed third Andreas HÃ¤nni and replaced him with a rival skip, Ralph StÃ¶ckli.
"It was a tough decision, but the European Championship has great importance for our team," said Schwaller, the 2002 Olympic bronze medallist. "It's going to be great to play with Ralph. Being the home team might add some extra pressure so we want to be the most prepared."
Schwaller appears to be following the lead of fellow Canadian curlers, Olympic champion Brad Gushue and two-time Brier champion Kevin Martin, who both partnered up with former rivals in the last year.
Gushue signed up New Brunswick veteran Russ Howard to help his Newfoundland and Labrador rink to Olympic glory at the 2006 Torino Games last February, while Martin scooped up John Morris to help in his drive for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
StÃ¶ckli, a former world junior champion and skip of the 2006 Swiss Olympic team, is looking forward to the opportunity to join his longtime rival on the ice.
"I know Andi very well from our history as opponents," said StÃ¶ckli. "I am looking forward to competing with him. We do this for Switzerland."
The Swiss men will be aiming for a fast start, as they face lightly-regarded France, Wales, Ireland and Denmark to start the week.
However, Schwaller closes the round-robin portion of the event with five consecutive matches against battle-hardened teams: Per Carlsen of Sweden, defending world champion David Murdoch of Scotland, Olympic silver medallist Markku Uusipaavalniemi of Finland, former European champion Sebastian Stock of Germany, and world bronze medallist Thomas Ulsrud of Norway.
Norway is the defending men's champion. Last year in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 2002 Olympic gold medallist PÃ¥l Trulsen defeated Sweden's Peja Lindholm in the European final. Trulsen did not attempt to represent Norway at this year's championship, and his veteran team will retire from competition this spring.
A record number of teams are competing in the event — 52 teams from 30 countries (30 men's squads and 22 women's teams) — in two divisions, A and B.
The top seven men's and women's teams in the A division earn a berth in the world curling championships, while the top team in the B division will challenge the eighth place team in the A division for the eighth and final world spot.
The women's world championship will take place March 17-25 in Aomori, Japan, while the men's championship will be held in Edmonton March 31 - April 8.
The European curling championships begin Saturday,Dec. 9 and run through Dec. 16 in Basel.