It was one of the most unlikely finishes in the history of the Tim Hortons Brier’s round-robin preliminaries. Following Thursday night’s final round at the Credit Union Centre, Ontario’s Glenn Howard (10-1) and Manitoba’s Rob Fowler (8-3) qualified for tonight’s Page One-Two playoff (6:30 p.m.) with the winner headed directly to Sunday’s championship final (6 p.m.).
And the Koe brothers, from Alberta (8-3) and the Northwest Territories (7-4), were left to forge a rematch in the Page Three-Four sudden-death playoff Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.
Ontario defeated Alberta’s Kevin Koe from Calgary 6-3 Thursday in a long-awaited rematch of the 2010 championship final won by Koe at Halifax. At that time, Koe became the only skip ever to qualify from the Page Three-Four game to progress through semi-final and final with victories.
But the Albertans were chasing in this one, and a respiratory condition plaguing vice-skip Pat Simmons was of no help to the cause.
It was deadlocked at 3-3 playing the ninth when Howard executed a pair of precise runback takeouts which set up a three-spot and the decision.(Continued Below…)
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Brandon’s Fowler was catapulted into the Page One-Two tilt while taking a Thursday-night bye, having earlier thumped Saskatchewan 9-3 and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs 10-4 in morning and afternoon scuffling.
Manitoba defeated Alberta 8-5 on Wednesday night, thereby gaining an edge in the playoff pairings.
Yellowknife’s Jamie Koe, meanwhile, bounced back from an 11-3 thrashing at the hands of his brother’s Albertans Wednesday morning and a 10-5 loss to Manitoba in the afternoon to win twice on Thursday — 9-6 over New Brunswick’s Terry Odishaw and 8-3 over Jim Cotter’s fading troops from British Columbia.
Those decisions were the sixth and seventh of the week for the Polars and left them only the fourth team in the entire field to finish with a record that boasted more wins than losses.
The surviving teams:
No. 1 — Ontario: Glenn Howard, skip, Wayne Middaugh, Brent Laing, Craig Savill of Coldwater.
No. 2 — Manitoba: Rob Fowler, skip, Allan Lyburn, Richard Daneault, Derek Samagalski of Brandon.
No. 3 — Alberta: Kevin Koe, skip, Pat Simmons, Carter Rycroft, Nolan Thiessen of Calgary.
No. 4 — Territories: Jamie Koe, skip, Tom Naugler, Brad Chorostkowski, Robert Borden, of Yellowknife.
Said Howard afterward:
“I think that was probably our best performance of the week, collectively, all four of us. It was a simple game, bang-bang, up and down the sheet. We made all the quality shots, we made all the critical shots we had to, when we got into trouble we made a big one to get out of it, and then we capitalized in that ninth end.”
The Page One-Two playoff is deja-vu for Howard. His Ontario team has qualified for this playoff contest in four of the last six Briers.
“We got ourselves into the next one and it’s the quickest way into the final,” reasoned Howard.
“I like the way our team is playing now. We’re moving in the right direction. I’m pretty pleased.
“We get the hammer, you always feel that little comfort zone. You have that little bit of an advantage to start the game. It doesn’t win or lose you games, I don’t believe, but it’s nice to have it if you can get it. It gives you the feeling you’re already in control.
“Mind you,” he paused and flashed a big grin, “if you give up a steal in the first end you’ve lost control.”
Kevin Koe was philosophical about his third-place finish, the same one he picked off prior to winning in 2010.
“When you have a third (Simmons) that’s really under the weather, sometimes it’s best to keep it simple. He has some kind of viral chest infection. That’s part of the reason for keeping it open.”
He said he was happy for his brother’s survival and suggested it was a great 65th birthday gift for his father who hasn’t missed a rock from his perch high in arena. (Continued below…)
“It’s a big story,” he admitted. “But now it’s playoff time so we can’t really worry about who we’re playing.
We haven’t been quite as sharp the last few games, and, not to make excuses but Pat is not 100 per cent.
“I’m not too worried about it. It’s kind of eerily similar to a couple of years ago. So we’re back in the Three-Four game and we don’t have to play tomorrow. The day off will help us with Pat’s problem and help us to regroup.
“I don’t think the Territories ever has made the playoffs before. It’s a good story but it’ll be time to end it Saturday. This is playoffs and we have to come out and beat up whoever we’re playing.”
Brother Jamie, meanwhile, was ecstatic.
“We’re finally in,” he said with a sign of relief. “It’s been a long road. Six years we’ve never been there so it’s pretty satisfying right now, I’m pretty happy.
“We got our confidence back in the morning game and we were able to go out and continue that trend. We controlled the game (vs. B.C.) from the get-go and it wasn’t too nerve-wracking at all.
“It’s pretty special and we know everyone back home is going nuts right now.”
On that subject, a total of eight teams departed the premises with losing records:
New Brunswick (Odishaw), Northern Ontario (Jacobs) and Newfoundland (Brad Gushue) finished 5-6, B.C. (Jim Cotter), Quebec (Robert Desjardins), and Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy) finished 4-7, and Saskatchewan (Scott Manners) and P.E.I. (Mike Gaudet) were 3-8.
For the idle Fowler, he said his team was happy to be on a high heading into the playoffs.
“It was a strong finish,” he said. “Even though we dropped a couple of games early. In those games, I missed two or three shots that could have broken the games open.
“Obviously, we seem to be bringing it together at the right time of the week.
“The ice has been great all week. It’s just that it was a little different from one sheet to the next the first three days. Now you can walk out on any sheet and it’s the same across the board so it’s easier to get it dialed in earlier in the game.
“We said earlier that if we could get to eight wins we’d be in good shape and we did that so we’re more than satisfied. You want to finish out the round robin strong. You never want to let up on the gas.
“We just want to keep it in the moment.”
Only one Territories team ever has advanced beyond the round-robin segment since the Brier adopted a playoff format in 1980.
That was when Yellowknife’s Al Delmage finished the 1985 gauntlet at Moncton with a 6-5 record, qualified for tiebreakers and lost 8-6 to Don Aitken of Montreal to finish at 6-6.
Don Twa’s Whitehorse team recorded an 8-3 record at Fredericton in 1975, the best-ever Territories record at the Brier. Coincidentally, it was also the first year a Territories entry was involved.
The Whitehorse team finished in a runnerup tie with Alberta’s Tom Reed of Edmonton. Both teams were awarded second-place silver bun trays. Twa beat Reed in their round-robin hookup.
Bill Tetley of Thunder Bay was the Brier winner that year.