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Howard only unbeaten men’s team at Trials

Wayne Middaugh is on the rocks here at the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings, and he’s pointing a finger at . . . the rocks.

Toronto’s Middaugh, skipping for a third time at the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials, fell to 0-3 on Tuesday morning at Rexall Place after a 7-3 loss to Edmonton’s Kevin Martin.

Afterward, Middaugh said the yellow stones his team was using on Sheet A were a handful to predict.

“They decided to go with a set of rocks they knew, and they’re just . . . worn out,” said Middaugh. “Across all four sheets, I don’t think anyone will tell you different.

“We’ve got four rocks that curl 10 inches, and four rocks that curl four feet. So how do you put the broom down?” added Middaugh. “You don’t complain. You deal with it and move on. You know what? Everybody’s going to have to throw them once during the week, and everybody you talk to about that . . . I’m sure they’ll tell you the same thing.  Glenn (Howard) was the one who came over and told me about them. So it was good of Glenn to do that.”

In Tuesday morning’s other men’s action, Howard, of Coldwater, Ont., stayed unbeaten and pushed his record to 3-0 with a 6-4 victory over young Manitoba interloper Jason Gunnlaugson (0-3).

Edmonton’s Kevin Koe (2-1) fell from the ranks of the undefeated with a 6-5 loss to Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton (2-1), while four-time world champion Randy Ferbey of Edmonton (2-1) dumped Pat Simmons (1-2) of Davidson, Sask., by a score of 9-4.

The rocks used at this week’s Roar of the Rings are Manitoba Curling Association rocks which have been used at several Briers, including the 2009 edition at Calgary, and numerous Ford World championships held in Canada. There were no issues raised over the rocks at Calgary’s Pengrowth Saddledome in March.

Martin, who improved to a 2-1 mark with Tuesday’s win, sympathized with Middaugh’s struggles.

“They had three rocks that didn’t curl, eh? That makes it tough,” said Martin, a four-time Brier winner and 2008 world champion. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with the yellows when we get stuck with them. Glenn had the same trouble (Monday) night . . . it’s going to be a corker for somebody to win with those rocks.

“I really wish the players had more say in the equipment we throw with, because it’s such a big event,” added Martin. “Wayne was really up against it, as Glenn was when he played Stoughton. They had one that curled eight to 10 inches, one a little over a foot, one about 18 inches, and one of Wayne’s actually curled more than mine, about four-and-a-half, five feet. It’s really hard, because if you look at it from a player’s perspective, my goodness, everyone expects you to make all these come-arounds, and taps, and we really want to make them, but how can you?

“I know I get unpopular sometimes for saying what I think, but I really have to say it this time . . . it’s just unfortunate. Such a big event.”

Hans Wuthrich, the Canadian Curling Association’s head ice technician, weighed in on the controversy on Tuesday, saying the CCA had removed small imperfections and smoothed that set of yellow rocks, and matched their weights to the others, prior to the Roar of the Rings.

“There shouldn’t be that kind of difference in those rocks. I don’t know where that’s coming from, or why,” said Wuthrich. “I’m going to see what happens in the next game.  I haven’t heard any of the women say anything about those rocks.

“If there’s a problem with the rocks, we’ll find out. We’ll take a look. What are the options? Well, you change (modify) the rocks. It’s an easy problem to fix,” added Wuthrich. “We knew how important this event was. We double-checked all those rocks. There were about eight or nine that we fixed, that had wee little imperfections in them.
But I just can’t see it. Rocks react different in every building.”

Wuthrich and Howard had a chat after Tuesday’s morning draw on the subject.

“It’s a tough set. It was one of the toughest sets we’ve played this year,” said Howard. “But . . . you have to deal. I’m kind of proud of the fact we won (Sunday’s) game (5-4 over Stoughton). We knew exactly what those rocks are doing, and you adjust accordingly.”

Meanwhile, Koe lost his first game of the week as Stoughton, leading 6-5 with the hammer in the 10th end, used his last rock for a double takeout that cleared the rings.

“You can always play better, and make perfect shots, and that’s what you’re striving for,” said Stoughton, who lost the 2005 Olympic Trials final to eventual Torino gold medalist Brad Gushue. “We’ve just got to make all the big shots. We got a couple today . . . we move on to the next game.”

Koe had matched Stoughton blow for blow, until the Winnipeg crew scored a deuce in the eighth end to score the winning points and go up 6-4.

“We’re still in fine shape,” said Koe. “I think we’ve still got quite a bit of room to improve. All four of us sure aren’t firing on all cylinders during the same ends. We’ve got quite a few half-shots we’re leaving out there. If we can pick it up a bit, I think we’ll be fine.”

Howard won his third straight against the young Beausejour, Man., outfit led by Gunnlaugson, which was highlighted by Gunnlaugson’s spectacular bomb-weight, triple takeout to score a deuce in the ninth end.

“It’s been a bit a struggle the first three games, especially personally, so it was nice to have (the crowd) roar there,” said Gunnlaugson, who got a high-five from Howard for the circus shot. “If you’re struggling, it’s nice to be at least playing against a guy who’s friendly and gives you that kind of encouragement.”

Added Howard, who’s three-for-three on the world championship stage: “I love that kid. I love that whole team. I think they’re just a great young bunch of guys, the next up-and-coming curlers when I’m retired and watching it. He’s a real bomber. I really wanted him to make it.”

Ferbey got back on track by scoring three points in the third and ninth ends against Simmons.

“There still were a lot of misses in that game, believe it or not,” said Ferbey. “Dave (Nedohin, who throws last stones for the Ferbey foursome) played well today, made the right shots, put pressure on Pat, and we got the win.  It turned out to look like a reasonably easy win, but it wasn’t. It really wasn’t.

In Tuesday’s 6 p.m. MT draw, Howard puts his unbeaten mark on the line against Simmons, Stoughton meets Martin, Middaugh clashes with Koe and Ferbey runs up against Gunnlaugson.

Tuesday’s 1 p.m. MT draw, the lone action of the day for the women, will feature Cheryl Bernard of Calgary (3-0) versus Kelowna’s Kelly Scott (1-2), Calgary’s Shannon Kleibrink (2-1) versus Krista McCarville (2-1) of Thunder Bay, Ont., Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones (1-2) versus Calgary’s Crystal Webster (1-2) and Amber Holland (1-2) of Kronau, Sask., versus Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton (1-2).