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Glenn Howard: No surrender

He’s a three-time world champion, a three-time Brier champion, and the only guy who has played in more Canadian men’s curling championships is his older brother, for whom he used to play.

Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ontario reacts after delivering his stone during an evening draw against Brandon, Manitoba's Rob Fowler. (Photo: CCA/Michael Burns Photography)

His record in curling speaks for itself… yet recent events suggest Glenn Howard is rapidly gaining a reputation for an inability to win The Big Ones.

Let’s see now. Howard and his team of Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill have won the last five Ontario titles running. They have advanced to four of the last five Brier finals, winning only once.

Last year’s record tops them all. The Howard team lost to Kevin Martin in the Olympic Trials final, then sailed through the Halifax Brier undefeated only to lose the final to Kevin Koe.

“You look at last year — and it has been the same for a few Briers — we put ourselves in the position to win,” assesses the 48-year-old beer store manager from Penetanguishene in the wake of a Canada Cup assignment at The Arena.
“We’ve been consistent. We get ourselves in the final games. And we’ve lost more of those than we’ve won. And, yes, that’s tough to handle.

“Last year, the whole focus was to get to the Olympic Trials. We did. We got to the final at the Trials. Same thing. We didn’t play as well as we should have. It was another of those ones. I personally felt I was throwing it decent. They didn’t end up in the right spots. I know it’s a long story shortened. But you lose. It’s tough. And you’re just numb.

“You know that you really missed out on a great opportunity, a great experience, the epitome of curling, and you think, now it’s a long four years away, you’re 47 at the time, and blah-blah-blah. You don’t jump up and down and scream and yell, you’re just… numb.

“Every day it gets a little bit better — I’m reminded of it almost every day — and then it’s the old proverbial, you just get back on the horse. What do you do? Do you feel sorry for yourself? You shoulda, woulda, coulda? No.

“And, hey, I was so proud of my guys. We came back and dropped that like a ton of bricks. We did the best we could. We didn’t lose one game at the Brier through to the final. And we left it out there. We played terrific. We had one bad end in the sixth. We had Kevin (Koe) wired in the 10th. He made two of the best shots you’ll ever see. Quiet little chips and rolls. And then he made a great shot to the button.

“You know, if we’d played poorly, it would have been disastrous. But we didn’t. We played terrific. We played as well as you can to win in that game and it didn’t happen. That probably was harder to swallow than the first one last year. Because we played really well and we looked like we should win it. Whatever. And then you’re just numb… again.”

Howard recalls a feeling throughout that most recent Brier final “that we were going to win.”

“Right up until the time Kevin was throwing his last rock, I felt the curling gods finally were coming around to our side,” he says now.

“We played well, it felt like it was going to be our turn. I mean, what are you going to do? You’re not going to jump off a bridge. We’ve put ourselves in position time and again, you lose those tough games, so now you go through another summer talking about it… endlessly. It’s tough. People come up and ask, ‘What happened? You had a great year.’ I do get tired of talking about it. Day in and day out. Explaining to people who don’t understand the game.

“You don’t get over it right away. You still think about it. But you’re also reminded of it. You look in magazines and you see Kevin Martin holding a gold medal and Kevin Koe holding the Brier tankard, and… good for them, they played terrific. But that reminds you of those losses.”

Again and again. Enough, perhaps, to move you to thinking about packing it all in, hanging up the brush, looking for a new line of recreation.

“It’s not as if we’re finishing 12th, we’re getting drilled,” Howard argues. “We’re one of the best teams in the world, day in and day out. And we’ve stayed at the top, which is really difficult in this sport, and I still think we’ve got the guys who can do it.”

“It’s been tough to swallow. I hate coming second. I’m going to use that phrase. It sucks. It’s probably easier on your psyche, easier on your mentality, if you finish eighth. But if you start doing that on a regular basis then I think it’s a sign that maybe you should consider packing it.

“But it’s not as though we’re not putting it out there, not playing well. We aren’t doing that. We’re playing great! We’re always right there. We’re just losing one game. Unfortunately it has to be those finals.

“It’s ironic. We don’t feel pressure. I don’t personally feel pressure. It’s just circumstance. For instance, in that last final, I was very impressed with the way Kevin Koe’s team played. They’d never been there before, albeit they’ve been in big games, but not the final. But they played lights-out. I thought there were a couple of shots where they wound up on the right side of the inch, if you’ll pardon that trite expression. But the last four shots Kevin threw were letter perfect. I have to give him credit. We had him dead to rights in that 10th end. Dead to rights!

“I know Ray (TSN’s Turnbull) was on us about the way we played the sixth end. Other people were a little critical. Well, we missed a few shots. We weren’t quite precise enough and we gave them three. It has nothing to do with strategy, nothing to do with nerves, we just weren’t quite as sharp on a couple of shots. You have to live with that. You can’t make every shot perfect. We try. Believe me, we try.”

And how about taking home those disappointments?

“Judy takes it harder that I do,” says Howard. “My wife loves the game. She knows how much time and effort we all put into it. She’s my greatest supporter. She gets upset. I think she really wanted to go to the Olympics. She really wanted to go to the Worlds. I like that. She isn’t critical. But she says, ‘I can’t believe you guys didn’t win.’ That’s cool. And the kids are the same way. They wanted to see the old man playing in the Olympics, too. They were just as disappointed, if not more, than I was. I have a great support group at home and that makes this a lot easier.”

Two years from senior eligibility, Howard has no sense of surrendering to this current trend in his competitive curling career.

“My gut tells me if I stay healthy and I still want to get out and throw rocks then I want to give it one more try,” he says.
“But it all depends on how well you’re playing, right? I mean, like I say, if you start finishing seventh in provincials, well, the message might be there. And it’s hard to keep mentally tough all the time. That’s the hard part.

“Right now, my gut tells me we’re going to give it a go (for one more Trials). But the four of us haven’t sat down and decided, ‘OK, we’re definitely doing it.’ Richie (Hart) made the comment during the summer that he was leaning toward doing it all over again. I think the young guys will be there. A lot may depend on how this year goes. It hasn’t been our best but it has been pretty solid.

“So the answer probably is, more or less a year at a time with the intention of probably doing it in 2014.”

Howard isn’t one to thrash about in bed, replaying old games and missed shots in his dreams.

“I have a great knack for walking away from this,” he says. “I don’t see rocks in my sleep or replay shots in my head. I’ve always been that way. It’s funny. I can have the most stressful week, ever, at work and I totally divorce myself from it. I find this more relaxing. I find it more stressful at work.

“I mean, I get in an airplane and all I have to do is go and curl? All of a sudden I get this relaxed feeling come over me. It says, I love what I do and I love to do it. And we still win 85 per cent of our games so it’s still fun for me. It isn’t work and it isn’t stressful.

“Sure, we’ve lost some big ones. Don’t get me wrong, those were massive losses last year. I can’t say how disappointing they were. But it was just two games. If I was winning 20 and losing 40, hey, I’d be packing it in. But… you really have to keep winning to sustain the enjoyment, I don’t think there’s any question about that.

“The bottom line is, you want to be the best. We haven’t been the best since 2007. And we don’t like that.”