Ontario’s Glenn Howard, resplendent with a night off at the Tim Hortons Brier on Wednesday, was left atop the leaderboard when Manitoba’s Rob Fowler upended Alberta’s Kevin Koe 8-5, thereby temporarily solidifying the top three placings heading into the last day of round-robin play.
Odds-on favourites to claim three of the four post-preliminary playoff berths, 2007 champion Ontario ended the day at 8-and-1, 2010 champion Alberta was 7-2 and upstart Manitoba, the defending champion province, was 6-and-3.
But the Brier demands a minimum of four playoff teams and that’s where the issue became interesting heading into Thursday’s draws.
At 5-4 with two to go were Jamie Koe’s Polars, on a three-game losing skein, and Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie.
Still with an outside crack at a tiebreaker at 4-5 were Terry Odishaw of Moncton, Jamie Murphy of CFB Halifax and B.C.’s Jim Cotter.
With all sorts of permutations and combinations possible today, here’s how the contenders finish off their qualifying matches:
Ontario (8-1) — 8:30 a.m. Nova Scotia (4-5); 6:30 p.m. Alberta (7-2).
Alberta (7-2) — 1:30 p.m. Nova Scotia (4-5); 6:30 p.m. Ontario (8-1).
Manitoba (6-3) — 8:30 a.m. Saskatchewan (2-7); 1:30 p.m. Northern Ontario (5-4).
Territories (5-4) — 8:30 a.m. New Brunswick (4-5); 6:30 p.m. British Columbia (4-5).
Northern Ontario (5-4) — 1:30 p.m. Manitoba (6-3); 6:30 p.m. Saskatchewan (2-7).
British Columbia (4-5) — 1:30 p.m. New Brunswick (4-5); 6:30 p.m. Territories (5-4).
Northern Ontario (5-4) — 1:30 p.m. Manitoba (6-3); 6:30 p.m. Saskatchewan (2-7).
Nova Scotia (4-5) — 8:30 a.m. Ontario (8-1); 1:30 p.m. Alberta (7-2). (Continued below…)
Draw 14 Photos
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Brandon’s Fowler, who qualified for this Brier by knocking off defending champion Jeff Stoughton and tour money leader Mike McEwen, appeared to have something saved for the Alberta Koe team on Wednesday night.
“When you’re playing against one of the top five teams in the world you’d better bring you’re A-plus and that gets you excited before the game and definitely pushes you to work hard to get into the zone,” explained the Manitoban.
The Buffalo boys hit for an opening deuce and refused to leave the zone, stealing three singles en route.
“We got control of the scoreboard and they were coming at us hard,” said Fowler, “but we were able to match them every step of the way, we were able to get a couple of big steals and maintain that lead throughout the last half of the game. All four of us were playing top to bottom, probably our best game of the week.
“As the game played out, I have to compliment my team. Their patience and ability to stay positive no matter what transpired really showed in that game.”
Fowler, with Allan Lyburn, Richard Daneault and Derek Samagalski, was reminded the victory left his team in contention for a possible berth in the Page One-Two playoff on Friday night with a berth in the championship final at stake.
“We proved in our provincial playdowns any playoff position would be an opportunity for us to finish the deal, so we’ll do what it takes and take Thursday’s games one at a time,” Fowler said.
Koe was tight-lipped with his reaction to the evening’s proceedings.
“It was a struggle, they played well,” he said. “We were a little off and that’s what happens when you play good teams. We won’t worry about it too much.”
Koe earlier defeated his brother’s Territories team 11-3 in the morning.
Fowler doubled the Territories 10-5 in the afternoon.
Ontario’s Howard, meanwhile, doubled up on B.C.’s Jim Cotter 8-4 in the morning, then defeated Mike Gaudet’s Prince Edward Islanders 10-5 in the afternoon.
“So far, so good,” said Howard, who finishes his round-robin run against Alberta at 6:30 p.m. tonight.
“The grind is a little bit tiring,” admitted the 49-year-old veteran. “I can’t tell a lie. The bottom line is I think that in the long run, other than fatigue, I think it’s good for us. It keeps you in the games. You have to make shots. And in terms of the pressure situations we’re making them.
“Would I like a few quicker ones? Maybe. It’s tiring, mentally, more draining this year because you’re fighting tooth and nail for every point you can get.
“I don’t remember any previous Brier that was quite as taxing as this one so far.”
Northern Ontario’s Jacobs sailed through a pair — 9-2 over Quebec’s Robert Desjardins in the morning and 11-3 over Nova Scotia’s Jamie Murphy in the afternoon.
“We’ve gotten a lot better as the week has progressed,” assessed Jacobs.
“Everyone’s a little more comfortable with the ice and the speed and what the rocks are doing out there, the tendencies with draws and hits. We’ve really caught on to the ice the last couple of games.
Jacobs said his win over Alberta on Tuesday afternoon set the table for his charges.
“We were really up for Kevin Koe,” he said. “We seem to get up for the teams that everyone knows about but not so much for teams nobody knows about. But getting that win over Koe was great for our confidence.
“It’s much more difficult playing some of these teams. The last two Briers there were a lot of familiar faces, teams you play on a regular basis. We know what to expect out of them. Teams you’ve never seen before you don’t know what to expect. That can be tough.
“But it makes it a fabulous event. I think it’s great to see some of the new blood here.”
Moncton’s Odishaw hung tough on the late shift by crushing the hopes of Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue 6-4.
Gaudet continued his giant-killing ways by rallying from a 4-2 deficit to defeat Vernon’s Cotter 7-5.
Yellowknife’s Koe, meanwhile, was left to wonder where thee week’s early magic has gone.
“That’s exactly how it feels,” he said, when asked if the touch has slipped away.
“We’ll try to figure out what’s gone wrong and regroup for tomorrow.”
The home-province Saskatchewan crew of Scott Manners continued to run into a flurry of bad luck, dropping a 9-8 decision to Odishaw and a 10-6 duke to Gushue. A couple of three-enders swamped Manners in the afternoon, who dropped to 2-7 and last in the field.
Odishaw still was hoping to win out and wedge into a tiebreaker of some sort.
“I think we’re in full survival mode right now and we’re entertaining as usual, leaving some rocks in play,” Odishaw said with a laugh.
“But the approach is the same, it doesn’t change. Keep our fingers crossed and hope to make the shots.”
Nova Scotia’s playoff hopes took a turn for the worst when skip Murphy flashed a last-rock double which accounted for a 7-6 loss to Quebec’s Desjardins.
“We made it a little more exciting than it needed to be, eh?” Desjardins asked.
Quebec put up a three-spot in the first end, but gave most of it back in the second and the game see-sawed from there.
Up one with hammer in the last panel, Desjardins watched as Murphy sailed one through the rings which left the Quebec skip the luxury of disregarding his last brick.
“The ice is pretty tricky there, I’m not sure if the shot was there, but what he was looking at, I would have tried the same shot,” said Desjardins.
The loss left Murphy in dire straits with Ontario and Alberta left on his schedule today.
For Desjardins, aka Curling Bob, at 3-6?
“No matter how bad things go, we just remember, hey, we are at The Brier, that has to be good enough to bring a smile back to your face,” he said.
Koe survived a couple of tough opening ends against his brother’s Territories team in the morning before the difference in the squads began to seep through and the Brier co-leaders scored three, then two, then three, and scampered away with a lopsided verdict in a matter of seven ends.
“I’m glad it’s over,” said the Alberta skip.
“I’m really glad he (Jamie) is here and doing well. But I don’t get much enjoyment out of beating them. I hope they win the rest of their games.
“It’s unfortunate one of us had to lose but we really needed that win after losing our last game.
“It’s a long week and it’s tough to stay focused all week. But I’m sure they (Territories) will bounce back.”
Howard’s win over Cotter wasn’t decided until the B.C. worthy missed a last dra with Ontario counting three.
“Obviously,” said Howard, “I thought Jim would make that shot and we’d be going yet another extra end.”
It would have been the fifth overtime assignment in eight jousts for Ontario. (Continued below…)
Cotter refused to allow Ontario to get away on the scoreboard, tying things up three times before blanking the ninth and trailing by one.
Howard’s last come-around draw slipped behind the teeline leaving Cotter a path to follow. But his rock over-curled and rubbed at the top of the rings.
Elsewhere, Jacobs and his gang were exulted with their day’s harvest.
“Hey, we’re still in it!” exclaimed Jacobs, who won his last three games at the Brier a year ago.
“And we just have to keep doing our thing one game at a time.
“It would be good to hang in and then run a bit of a streak at the finish.
“Obviously, if we’re fortunate to make the playoffs we’d have a streak going. It would be good for us. We’d have confidence built by the end of the week. And momentum.”