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Alberta extends Brier winning streak

The record Brier win streak stretched to 27 on Saturday night at the John Labatt Centre.

Kevin Martin of Team Alberta (Photo: Michael Burns Photography)

Kevin Martin of Team Alberta (Photo: Michael Burns Photography)

Alberta’s Kevin Martin, riding a 26-zip winning streak in his last two Brier appearances, warded off a threat in the early ends by Sault Ste. Marie’s Brad Jacobs and rolled to a 6-2 victory, the Alberta team’s first of this latest Tim Hortons Brier.

Alberta is looking for a fourth straight Brier win this week which would tie the province with Manitoba for the most titles in Brier history.

The Martin team faces New Brunswick’s James Grattan and British Columbia’s Jim Cotter in morning and afternoon matches today.

Meanwhile Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton obviously has a plan in mind to stall the Alberta advance and give his province a bonus title.

Stoughton climbed atop the standings with his second win of the opening day, defeating James Grattan of New Brunswick 9-4 with a ninth-end four-ender.

“It’s a bit of a challenge, especially draw weight, because the ice is pretty frosty,” said Stoughton. “But if the temperature cools down and we get rid of all the frost it’ll change again. “We’re reading ice now, it’s not just automatic. There’s a little more thinking out there.”

The Winnipeg skip admitted, though, his team didn’t seem to be struggling too much.

“We had control most of the way once we got the lead and that’s a nice way to start off the week.”

Grattan, who earlier stole a 5-4 win from Ontario’s Glenn Howard when he pulled he pulled the string on a last-rock draw to he eight-foot circle, blew an open draw for three in the first end against Manitoba.

“We had our chances early and that miss might have set the tone,” said the New Brunswick skip. “But it just came down to execution.”

Or lack of it.

“The ice seems to bite when you give it the soft release. Where we come from, we have to throw it a bit soft to get the curl.”

Stoughton got off on the right foot in the afternoon, easily disposing of B.C.’s Jim Cotter of Vernon 10-4.

Grattan said both Ontario and Manitoba were far from invincible.

“Both those teams ultimately give you chances from start to finish,” he said.

Martin stuck on a first-end hit looking at two and after a blank second frame Jacobs rubbed his own sot stone attempting a quick tap for a deuce.

Martin then rolled out on a hit for two in the third but the game swung in the fifth when the North Ontario skip missed a draw on outside ice, then found the whole in the doughnut trying to split two stones and blank the sixth. Suddenly it was 5-1 and Alberta was on cruise control.

“That was tough draw he had to throw in the fifth,” said Martin, noting it was much heavier on the outside where frosty conditions lurked. “That was a big steal.”

Then there was the narrow flash in the sixth.

“Those are scary ones,” said Martin. “You’re trying to get it thin and blank but there just is room to get through.”

Martin had little comment on his team’s winning streak.

“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “I hope it goes to 28 tomorrow.”

Howard’s team from Coldwater controlled its afternoon game throughout until the skip missed his final shot.

“It was a bit light and we didn’t get it there,” allowed a disappointed Howard, who won the 2007 Brier but has lost three finals over the span of the last five renewals of the Canadian men’s curling championship.

“I wasn’t really confident on it,” the 48-year-old Howard admitted. “The ice was a little frosty. I laid it down for the boys and it was too late. I wasn’t real happy with the way I threw it, the boys said ‘we’ve got to go on it’, and their sweeping probably dragged it an extra 10 feet.”

But the rock, which was required to reach the full eight-foot circle, didn’t make it.

“Too late, too bad,” assessed Howard. “We totally controlled the game. It doesn’t matter. I missed my last shot. It cost us the game. I don’t feel very good about it.”

Grattan, a Brier regular, said the ice was “a little difficult and the more difficult it got favoured our team more than theirs”.

Heavy rain and humidity outside meant the curling ice developed frosty patches on the outsides of every sheet.

“Hey, it’s a good start,” said Grattan, an Air Canada customer service agent at Fredericton airport who plays out of nearby Oromocto.

“Against a team like that you take whatever you can.

“For some reason, that eight-foot felt more like the button today. It was really a lot tougher shot for him than it looked. I think if I was in his position I might have played a soft hit and roll on one of the two rocks.

“We tried to force them into that last shot. We wanted to leave him the middle path and have him curl into the sludgy stuff and that’s exactly what happened.

“It looked at the hogline like it would stop two feet short of the rings. Those boys gave her hell. And it was actually fairly close.

“When you get rain outside and a building full of people you’re going to get difficult ice and lose some shots. There was a lot of snow lying around after some of the sweeping in the frost.”

The frost buildup, caused by relatively mild, wet weather and a first-draw crowd of 6,392, prompted the Canadian Curling Association to rent and install a portable dehumidification system at the JLC. The dehumidifier will be operational early today and remain in place for the duration of the event.

Cost of the rental plus installation was estimated at $40,000.

A similar dehumidification system was installed at the 2009 Ford Worlds in the Moncton Coliseum. Similar frost problems played havoc with the 1995 Brier at Halifax when rain dominated the weather for most of the week.

“The problem is it’s too warm outside,” ther CCA director of event operations Warren Hansen told the London Free Press. “Even with the amount of people in here, if it was colder outside all they’d have to do is open the doors between draws. But if they did that now, it would just allow more humidity in.”

In other late-shift contests, Quebec’s Francois Gagne of Montreal made a formidable debut, hammering Nova Scotia’s Shawn Adams 10-4 while Jamie Koe of Yellowknife squared his record at 1-1 on the day with an 8-6 decision over Eddie MacKenzie’s Prince Edward Island crew from Charlottetown.

In other first-round assignments, Saskatchewan’s Steve Laycock defeated Koe’s Northwest Territories outfit 6-4 while Brad Gushue of Newfoundland/Labrador hammered MacKenzie 12-1.

Laycock said his Green Machine overcame some problems on the frosty ice and gained enough confidence to prevail against the Polars.

“Jamie (skip Koe) always gives us trouble at the Brier,” said Laycock. “He’s a very good player and we didn’t expect any different.

“We got caught a few times on that frost. I don’t think we got one to the rings in the second end until late. But, later in the game we started to get some confidence.”

Gushue’s squad wasn’t given much of a test by the Islanders but said, “I’d rather win one like that than lose”.

“We tried to get as much of the feel in the first game as we could so we can take it into tomorrow.”

Charlottetown’s MacKenzie was matter-of-fact.

“We have to make a lot more shots, that’s for sure,” he said.

The team practised at home after every night draw at the Scotties last week.

“It didn’t show in that game,” said MacKenzie. “I guess we needed a month of it.”

Stoughton, who has been playing in the Brier since 1991, took a look at the conditions and said he knew “we had to get off to a good start”.

“We were pretty aggressive out of the gate and it paid off,” he said.