Ontario’s Glenn Howard, one of two heavy favourites at the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier, was uncharacteristically light on a last-rock draw to the eight-foot ring and gave up a steal of two and a first-round 5-4 decision to New Brunswick on Saturday afternoon at the John Labatt Centre in London.
Howard’s team from Coldwater controlled the game throughout until the skip pulled the string on his final shot.
“It was a bit light and we didn’t get it there,” allowed a disappointed Howard, who won the 2007 Brier but has lost three finals over the span of the last five renewals of the Canadian men’s curling championship.
“I wasn’t really confident on it,” the 48-year-old Howard admitted. “The ice was a little frosty. I laid it down for the boys and it was too late. I wasn’t real happy with the way I threw it, the boys said ‘we’ve got to go on it’, and their sweeping probably dragged it an extra 10 feet.”
But the rock, which was required to reach the full eight-foot circle, didn’t make it.
“Too late, too bad,” assessed Howard. “We totally controlled the game. It doesn’t matter. I missed my last shot. It cost us the game. I don’t feel very good about it.”
New Brunswick skip James Grattan, a Brier regular, said the ice was “a little difficult and the more difficult it got favoured our team more than theirs”.
Heavy rain and humidity outside meant the curling ice developed frosty patches on the outsides of every sheet.
“Hey, it’s a good start,” said Grattan, an Air Canada customer service agent at Fredericton airport who plays out of nearby Oromocto.
“Against a team like that you take whatever you can.
“For some reason, that eight-foot felt more like the button today. It was really a lot tougher shot for him than it looked. I think if I was in his position I might have played a soft hit and roll on one of the two rocks.
“We tried to force them into that last shot. We wanted to leave him the middle path and have him curl into the sludgy stuff and that’s exactly what happened.
“It looked at the hogline like it would stop two feet short of the rings. Those boys gave her hell. And it was actually fairly close.
“When you get rain outside and a building full of people you’re going to get difficult ice and lose some shots. There was a lot of snow lying around after some of the sweeping in the frost.”
In other first-round assignments, Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock defeated Jamie Koe’s Yellowknife team from the Northwest Territories 6-4 while Brad Gushue of Newfoundland/Labrador hammered Eddie MacKenzie of Prince Edward Island 12-1 and Manitoba’s two-time Canadian champion Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg easily disposed of B.C.’s Jim Cotter of Vernon, B.C. 10-4.
On the second-round agenda at 7:30 p.m. (ET), New Brunswick plays Manitoba, P.E.I. tangles with the Territories, Nova Scotia’s Shawn Adams of Halifax plays Francois Gagne of Montreal and Alberta’s Kevin Martin, four-time Brier champion, debuts against Brad Jacobs’s Northern Ontario unit from Sault Ste. Marie.
Laycock said his Green Machine overcame some problems on the frosty ice and gained enough confidence to prevail against the Polars.
“Jamie (skip Koe) always gives us trouble at the Brier,” said Laycock. “He’s a very good player and we didn’t expect any different.
“We got caught a few times on that frost. I don’t think we got one to the rings in the second end until late. But, later in the game we started to get some confidence.”
Gushue’s squad wasn’t given much of a test by the Islanders but he said, “I’d rather win one like that than lose”.
“We tried to get as much of the feel in the first game as we could so we can take it into tomorrow.”
Charlottetown’s MacKenzie was matter-of-fact.
“We have to make a lot more shots, that’s for sure,” he said.
The team practised at home after every night draw at the Scotties last week.
“It didn’t show in that game,” said MacKenzie. “I guess we needed a month of it.”
Stoughton, who has been playing in the Brier since 1991, took a look at the conditions and said he knew “we had to get off to a good start”.
“We were pretty aggressive out of the gate and it paid off,” he said. “They (B.C.) are one of the top teams here and to get rid of them now is good. They’re only going to get better.”
“Definitely, I’m disappointed. I didn’t have a very good game. We just have to execute better shots. They (Manitoba) are one of the best teams here and we needed our A-game . . . and we didn’t have it.”