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New Brunswick the first day leader at Tim Hortons Brier

The guy they used to call Jimmy The Kid, resulting from an exciting third-place finish at a Calgary Brier in 1997, emerged the only double winner from Saturday’s opening draws at the 2010 rock concert in the Metro Centre.

New Brunswick’s James Grattan of Oromocto, an Air Canada customer service agent at Fredericton airport, followed up on an 8-6 win over home city favourite Ian  Fitzner-LeBlanc in the afternoon by drubbing Jamie Koe of Yellowknife 10-3 on the late shift.

It was a long day for four teams that played two games in addition to Hot Shots and opening ceremonies appearances and the grind almost cost Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton, a Brier co-favourite, with two losses.

Stoughton was fortunate to escape with a split, battling from behind to edge Jeff Richard of B.C. 8-7 in an extra end before dropping an 8-5 verdict to Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario later.

Other one-game winners on Saturday were Glenn Howard of Ontario, Brad Gushue of Newfoundland/Labrador, Darrell McKee of Saskatchewan and Alberta’s Kevin Koe, who also appeared bound to be an upset victim in the afternoon until a steal of two in the seventh end enabled the Edmonton team to wriggle off the hook and roll on to a 9-6 win over Jacobs.

“I’m more confident going into this Brier than others in which I’ve skipped,” said Grattan, who’s skipping for the fourth time and also put in four appearances at third for Russ Howard.

“Having Steve (Howard) around as a third helps. Third is an important position and the guys I’ve brought here in the past weren’t up to Steve’s standard. Nothing against those other guys but Steve’s that much better. Third is an important issue and I’m just much more confident with Steve in there.”

Steve Howard, of course, is Russ’s 25-year-old son. He and dad and the other members of the current gang of Herringchokers played at the Calgary Brier last year as a five-man team.

“It’s nice having him around,” said the 35-year-old Grattan.  “He’s just like his old man — in terms of the intensity more than anything. It’s not much different than playing with Russ. Actually, it’s the same except I have Russ playing third for me now.”

Howard thumped Quebec Brier rookie Serge Reid of Kenogami 8-3 Saturday night while McKee shaded Rod MacDonald’s Islanders from Charlottetown 7-6.

Elsewhere in the afternoon, Gushue tripped up Jamie Koe’s Polars 8-5.

“I think experience helped us early in the first game,” said Grattan. “I think we caught on to the ice quicker than those guys.

“I remember my first Brier, I was a little unsure of myself. I think the style of game we played back then was tough the first couple of games of that Brier.

“That was the three-rock rule back then so I wasn’t so sure what I was doing back then. Nowadays you’re trapped into playing the finesse game when you can’t hit the second rock and execution is everything.”

Grattan got better and better in 1997. He finished 9-4.

The young Northern Ontario crew from Sault Ste. Marie began grappling with the toughest opening draw this weekend. Jacobs drew Alberta for openers, then Manitoba, and plays Ontario Sunday morning at 10:30.

“I’d rather have them early than late when they’re hot and they know the ice,” skip Jacobs said. “We’ve talked about it. We can’t get down over these first three, regardless of what happens. They’re three of the four toughest teams here but we believe in ourselves.”

“That was a much better performance,” he said of his team’s evening win, sparked by a four-ender in the second end. “My guys made some huge shots to keep things clean.”

In the afternoon, the Soo crew blew a 5-3 half-time lead.

“I missed a runback, they got their deuce, we had a horrible next end, and went into the tank,” explained Jacob.

It wasn’t a patented day at the Brier for Stoughton, who is playing in his eighth Big One.

“You see that at the Brier across the board,” he said. “Everybody’s getting comfortable with the ice. Everybody’s getting more comfortable where you put the broom for hits, peels and draws. You have to figure to get more misses than expected.”

“What are you going to do?” he added, referring to the four-point spot. “You can’t get that upset about it. We got back into it right up until the ninth end and we had some fun out there.  It’s a long week and you have to have fun out there.”