It was the brash kid in the ring with the cagey old champ.
The kid fired salvos from everywhere, overhand rights and left uppercuts, and the champ ducked and dived and, as the match wore on, scored the points that eventually won in the first round of the Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials Sunday night at Rexall Place.
A heavy hometown pre-event favourite, Canadian champion Kevin Martin of Edmonton, aka The Old Bear, out-manoeuvred the flamboyant challenge of young Jason Gunnlaugson by a fine 7-5 count, rallying from a two-point deficit after three ends.
“I told you he was good,” said Martin, who drew his last rock to the four-foot with copious sweeping assistance. “He makes a ton of shots. Fortunately, the guys didn’t give up because after three or four ends it didn’t look like they were going to miss anything.”
The Gunner stole two points in the third when Martin rubbed with his last shot. But Gunner’s salvos started missing the target in the later ends.
“We missed some key shots here and there or we really could have put the pressure on him,” said the 25-year-old Manitoban. “When you play teams as great as them, a team that wins 24 straight at the Brier, when you get an opportunity you have to take it. We didn’t take enough of them.”
Martin, who was skipping in the game of curling the year Gunnlaugson was born, said he doesn’t expect anything different over the next six rounds of the eight-team competition.
“That’s just one of many that are going to be that close. Hopefully, we’ll just keep getting some good breaks. I’ll have more last shots to play like that last one. It’s no surprise. After three ends and we gave him the deuce, Johnny (third Morris) came down and said, ‘listen, let’s just try to get hammer coming home’. That was the mindset and we managed to do that. It was a good comeback.
“He (Gunnlaugson) doesn’t play with any fear and that’s a scary guy to play. He’s going to win some curling games this week, that’s for sure. We’re lucky they didn’t win one tonight.”
Elsewhere, Edmonton’s Randy Ferbey got off to a flying start with a 9-7 win over Toronto’s Wayne Middaugh. Ferbey led 8-3 after five frames.
Kevin Koe’s Edmonton crew also emerged victorious, dumping Pat Simmons of Davidson, SK, 8-5.
Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton surprised in the fourth first-rounder, slipping a last cold draw through the four foot to leave Glenn Howard of Coldwater, ON, with a theft and a 5-4 win.
“It was just too bad, it was too heavy,” said Stoughton afterward. “It was pretty simple, there’s nothing you can do, I just threw it too hard. It was a great game and we had every opportunity to win it. There’s nothing more you could ask for. I just couldn’t quite cut it back enough when I let it go.”
Said Howard, the recipient of the gift:
“I didn’t expect Jeff to miss that one. The ice was a little patchy tonight. We’re all feeling that out a little bit. You want to get off to a good start and you’re playing a former world champion — we had one horrible end but it was unfortunate for Jeff that he missed his last one.”
Ferbey confessed to a slight case of nerves, playing for the first time in a few years in front of a big hometown crowd.
“It’s always nice to be at home. The fans here are so appreciative and we have a lot of fans here. Were we nervous? Absolutely. But we made some shots in the first end and just got into a groove after that. We’re happy to get out of the gate good. We played well. We didn’t play great.”
Middaugh admitted to some confusion reading the ice.
“I feel sorry for my guys. I didn’t pick up on the ice very well. I didn’t give them a chance to make many shots because I couldn’t get the broom in the right spot. It’s the first draw. You have the best icemakers in the world here. They’ll figure something out. But, yeah, I thought it was surprisingly straight.”
Koe’s unit clipped Simmons for three in the first end.
“We got off on the right foot and we’re a pretty good team with the lead,” said Koe, who lives in Grande Prairie. “The nerves probably will be there all week but it’s nice to get one under your belt. We know the focus is going to be on Martin and Ferbey and Howard but we’ll settle for a place maybe just under the radar.”
Koe draws Gunnlaugson in Monday’s draw at 1 p.m. while Howard plays Middaugh, Ferbey tackles Stoughton and Martin plays Simmons.
“It’s no surprise it was a close game,” Koe said of the Martin-Gunner clash. “We know those guys. They can make a lot of shots. They’re not here by accident. They’re young and they like to throw them hard but they’re good at it.”
Simmons confessed to having problems with the ice.
“We threw some rocks we thought we should have gotten more out of than we did,” he said. “It was really weight-sensitive.”