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Ontario officially claims top spot at Tim Hortons Brier

Ontario clinched top spot in the round-robin standings and Quebec fell out of the running as the playoff picture continued to clear up Thursday afternoon at the 2010 Tim Hortons Brier, presented by Monsanto, at the Metro Centre.

Glenn Howard’s foursome from Coldwater, Ont., scored a 9-3 victory over the lowly Yukon/Northwest Territories in Draw 16, improving its record to 10-0 and securing first place overall heading into the playoff round.

“Now we can say No. 1. That feels good,” said Howard, whose team includes Richard Hart at third, Brent Laing at second, and Craig Savill at lead. “That’s where we want to be. First it was getting to the playoffs, and we did that yesterday, and now it’s No. 1.

“That means rocks and hammer in the (Page playoff) One-Two game (on Friday at 7:30 p.m. AT). So . . . mission accomplished.”

Thanks to Manitoba’s narrow 7-6 victory over Saskatchewan in 11 ends on Thursday afternoon, five teams remained in playoff contention at the Canadian men’s curling championship. But the playoff participants — and the playoff lineup — won’t be determined until the conclusion of the final round-robin draw, which is slated to begin at 7:30 p.m. AT.

Nipping at Ontario’s heels (10-0) is the young Northern Ontario (9-2) foursome headed by 24-year-old skip Brad Jacobs, which finished off its round-robin schedule on Thursday afternoon with a 9-3 bombardment of the Quebecers (5-5).

Alberta (8-2) sits third, followed by Newfoundland and Labrador (7-3) and Manitoba (7-4).  With a win Thursday night against Howard and Co., Kevin Koe’s quartet from Edmonton’s Saville Sports Centre would finish second overall, and earn a berth in the Page One-Two game against Ontario.

Brad Gushue’s rink from St. John’s, meanwhile, would secure a playoff ticket, and eliminate Manitoba, by defeating Serge Reid’s crew from Jonquiere, Que., on Thursday night.

As for Howard, he and his mates were only up 3-2 after five ends on the Territories (1-10), but hung two on the board in the sixth and another four in the eighth to put it away.

Territories skip Jamie Koe “had a couple misses early, or they would have been up on us,” said Howard. “We were kind of fortunate that he threw one through in the third end, which gave us (a 2-1) lead, and even in that last end, if he makes his first one, he’s sitting four. Next thing you know, we get four. It was kind of a quirky sort of a game.” Jacobs, meanwhile, did as much as he could to ensure a spot in Friday’s Page One-Two game. Should Howard defeat Koe in Thursday night’s round-robin finale, Northern Ontario would edge out Alberta for second overall.

A 9-2 record “is definitely a better goal than we had in mind,” said Jacobs, the youngest skip at this year’s Brier, whose Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., team includes third E.J. Harnden, second Ryan Harnden, and lead Caleb Flaxey.

“We will know our fate tonight, and . . . what a great performance the last couple of days by my guys,” added Jacobs. “Putting ourselves in that position for the (Page) One-Two game, obviously that’s all we could do. We need a little bit of help here from Glenn; hopefully it works out for us.”

The Winnipeggers from the Charleswood Curling Club were very nearly sent packing in the 10th end Thursday, after Stoughton’s final rock pulled up considerably short, but Saskatchewan skip Darrell McKee was heavy with his last brick, an attempted draw to the four-foot, and scored just one to tie the game 6-6.

In the 11th, Stoughton made a double-kill on his first throw, and McKee was unable to clear the house with his final stone.  McKee “had to draw to the side of the button on a strange side of the sheet (in the 10th), that’s for sure. Some were running straight, some were curling,” noted Stoughton, whose crew includes third Kevin Park, second Rob Fowler, and lead Steve Gould.

As for his precarious position — shifting into wait-and-see mode — Stoughton offered: “We do it to ourselves, so we deserve what we get. You lose four games, usually it’s pretty tough to get in there. We’re just hoping for a good break tonight.”

Meanwhile, La Belle Province was officially eliminated after its third consecutive loss. After four days of competition, the Quebec team of Reid, third Francois Gionest, second Simon Collin and lead Steeve Villeneuve had looked to be in great shape at 5-2, but was then felled by Alberta, New Brunswick and Northern Ontario in succession.

“It’s tough for the team . . . from 5-2 to 5-5,” said Reid. “Today, Brad had a great game and they didn’t miss anything, while we missed a couple of draws. It’s not enough.  It’s not necessarily the record — it’s the kind of game we played. The thing that’s disappointing for our team is the way we played. We don’t bring our game.”