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The Big Four are still the Big Four… so far

Going in, the experts were calling them the Brier’s Big Four. Three days and eight draws later, they still are the Big Four —Ontario at 5-and-0, Manitoba, Alberta and Newfoundland/Labrador at 4-and-1.

So how easy was this Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Monsanto, at the Metro Centre to handicap?

“There’s a long way to go,” said St. John’s skip Brad Gushue by way of a warning on Monday night. “A lot of big teams still have to play one another and a couple of others aren’t out of it, either.”

Nevertheless, the preliminary round robin barely is at the halfway mark Tuesday morning during Draw Nine with eight more draws to follow.

Glenn Howard and his favoured Coldwater crew extended its winning streak to five Monday night with a 9-3 runaway from winless Nova Scotia skipped by Ian Fitzner-LeBlanc. Earlier in the day, Howard and his team of Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill defeated New Brunswick’s James Grattan 7-4.

“We’re good!” exclaimed Howard afterward, slightly understating the case.

“I was a little ticked off in the first end, I threw one that didn’t curl quite enough and he stole one,” said the Ontario skip. “But he (Fitzner-LeBlanc) gave it right back in the next end, threw it a little wide and we got two and after that we pretty well controlled it.”

Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton, who suffered his lone defeat Saturday night (to Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario) stretched Manitoba’s win skein to three by doubling Quebec’s Brier rookie Serge Reid by a 6-3 score in the afternoon. It was the only match of the day for the Bison Boys.

“They seemed a little inexperienced, a couple of questionable calls here and there,” said Stoughton of his foe from Saguenay country. “But they throw pretty good so they deserve to be here.”

The Quebeckers (3-2) proved that on the night shift, scoring a 10th-end deuce for an 8-7 decision against British Columbia’s Jeff Richard.

“We wanted to take away his easy draw for two but my guard over-curled,” said Richard of his last rock in the 10th end. “They played better than us, though, and deserved to win the game.”

Reid paints his team “an underdog” and said “that helps us”.  Teams don’t know us but we know them,” he said. “We can play with every team here.”

He had the tying point stashed in the four-foot and when Richard left him an avenue, he drew the last rock to the middle circle for the winning pair.

The B.C. skip was far hotter in the morning when he directed a 7-5 victory over Alberta’s Kevin Koe.

Newfie’s Gushue rebounded from a Sunday night loss to Alberta’s Koe and turned in a pair of Monday successes — 10-3 over the Bluenosers in the morning and 7-3 over Rod MacDonald’s Prince Edward Islanders (1-4) on the late shift.

“We were strong in the second half of that last game,” said Gushue, “and that’s a good building block going into the next games.”

Alberta bounced back at night to throttle Darrell McKee of Saskatchewan 9-5 with three-enders in the sixth and eighth panels. A cross-rings double-kill from Koe for the initial triple was the game’s turning point.

“That shot is our bread and butter,” Koe said. “To miss that one would have left him (McKee) with a steal and a two-point lead. It would have been deflating to lose two in one day.”