Kevin Martin, Edmonton’s Old Bear, is zeroing in on his third curling tournament at the Olympic Games with a view to winning his first gold medal.
Martin and his team of John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert, the Brier winners of the past two winters, won the match that counted at Rexall Place in the Tim Hortons Canadian Curling Trials, men’s division, Thursday night, scoring a large three-ender in the ninth panel en route to an 8-6 conquest of long time Brier rival, Glenn Howard of Coldwater, ON.
In terms of the Trials, Martin pulled even with Howard at 6-and-1 for the round robin but earned the bye to Sunday’s 1 p.m. final where the ducats to Vancouver and the Winter Games will be on the line.
Howard and his team, unbeaten until the last gasp in the preliminaries, now faces Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton in the semi-final Saturday at 1 p.m.
The schedule is a duplicate of the last two matches at the Tim Hortons Brier last year at the Calgary Saddledome with Martin ensconced in the final and Howard tackling Stoughton in the semi. The Manitobans won that semi-final but lost big-time to Martin in the final.
“We’re one win away,” allowed Martin. “But we’ve lost the last game before (in 1997 to Mike Harris), so we know that we’ve done nothing yet.”
Martin admitted his team was chasing after the fourth end.
“When Johnny (Morris) locked that freeze absolutely perfect in there (ninth end), we had them on the run for two, and we ended up getting three.”
Howard’s first rock crashed on a guard and his second drew into the four-foot, but in the worst possible in-between position to set up Martin’s big shot.
“If we’re a foot short or a foot long he can’t make that shot,” said Howard. “But I could see it was lined up perfectly and Kevin just doesn’t miss those.”
“He didn’t put his rock just where he wanted, because he left a pocket there. I could have hit off of ours or off of his. And the result’s the same.”
Martin’s two previous Olympic experiences, skipping different teams, transpired in 1992 at Albertville, France, when curling was a demonstration event, and in 2002 at Salt Lake City when he lost the gold-medal final to Pal Trulsen of Norway.
In his previous visit, his team lost the bronze-medal match to Bud Somerville of the U.S.
Stoughton recorded his third straight win Thursday night — 8-7 over Pat Simmons of Davidson, SK. — to advance alone with a 5-and-2 record. The victory eliminated Kevin Koe (4-3) of Edmonton, who defeated city-mate Randy Ferbey (3-4) by a 9-4 count. In a battle of also-rans, Wayne Middaugh (2-5) of Toronto dusted off winless Jason Gunnlaugson of Winnipeg 9-4.
Howard and his team of Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill took control of the night’s feature match with a three-count in the fourth end for a 4-2 edge.
Martin finagled the tying deuce in the fifth and the teams exchanged last-rock singles for the next three ends until Martin delivered the game’s killing blow, a runback-double with last rock to spring two enemy stones and leave his side the count of three and a two-point lead.
Howard ran out of granite in his 10th-end bid for a tying deuce.
“It’s a fine line between us,” said Howard. “He may have an edge in games but it isn’t great. The scenario here looks familiar but we’ll be looking to change the ending.”
Stoughton was of a similar feeling.
He lost control to Simmons in the sixth end of their match and the lead changed hands the rest of the way as each team socked the other with deuces. In the last frame, Simmons missed a runback attempting to re-arrange Stoughton’s winning pair.
“We’re always confident we can get the deuce when we need it,” said Stoughton. “We made some good ones at the end to pull it out.”
Koe awaited the result with some trepidation, hoping for a Simmons victory that would have given his team a shot in a tiebreaker.
“We’re disappointed,” said the Grande Prairie-based skip. “We blew out four teams and lost to the three playoff teams in tight games, and really missed a few opportunities in those games. That’s what we’ll probably remember from this event.
“There’s a lot of pressure here. I thought we handled it pretty well. I thought we played great top to bottom, just a couple of shots here and there, and we didn’t get many breaks along the way.”
The three-time world champion Ferbey team probably led the league in disappointment, winning only three of seven starts.
“It’s four years of our lives that have been dedicated to this,” said last-rock dispenser Dave Nedohin. “There are other things that we’re going to try and continue to do this year, the Brier, a lot of tournaments, the skins and stuff. But this is hard to put into perspective right now. What it means as far as what we’ve done and where we’re going in the future. I don’t know what we’re doing after this year.”
Ferbey said he wanted to keep playing the game, “But I don’t want to be an also-ran. We’ll have to have a talk about it. I don’t know what the other three guys want to do. We’ve been together too long to take this lightly.”