How familiar is this face in the Tim Hortons Brier final? Almost as familiar as the Tim Hortons logo in the curling arena, that’s how. The coffee and doughnut outfit became the Brier sponsor eight years ago.
Ontario’s Glenn Howard will be in his sixth Brier final over that span of years on Sunday night at the Credit Union Centre.
Good fortune has not smiled on the Midland suds store manager in previous championship skipping appearances. He’s logged one win and four losses in Brier finals since 2006 and has lost his last three.
The 49-year-old Howard and his Ontario troops won their 11th match in 12 starts in this Brier as they pummelled Manitoba’s less-experienced Rob Fowler of Brandon 9-3 on Friday night to advance within one game of the Canadian men’s curling title and Canada’s berth at the world championship next month in Basel, Switzerland.
Ironically, it was Howard’s fifth straight convincing Brier win after an opening string of tight-fits that included five extra-end scrambles.
“Maybe that set us up,” said Howard. “I’ve never had that many tough games at the start of a Brier. I think it toughened us up, no doubt about it.”
The three-time Canadian champ, who tied his retired brother Russ for the most Brier appearances this week, directs third Wayne Middaugh, a two-time national champion, second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill who joined in Howard’s 2007 triumph.
Including his years at third for Russ, Howard will be playing in his 11th Brier final, having won three.
“This one we’re going to win,” said Howard. “We want to win it bad, much like all the others, and I like the way we’re playing.
”I’m proud to have played in 11. I’d like to have won a lot more than that but we’ve had some great finals and some not-so-great finals. Hopefully, No. 11 will be good to us.
“The good news is we’re not playing in that bronze-medal game and we’re playing in the final again. You can’t win until you get to the final.”
The loss dropped Manitoba into tonight’s 7 o’clock semi-final against the winner of the Page Three-Four scuffle at 1:30 p.m. between the Koes, Alberta’s Kevin and Jamie of the Territories.(Continued Below…)
Page Playoff 1 vs 2 Photos
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Howard’s final opponent will emerge from the semi-final. That loser will contest the Page Three-Four loser Sunday at 9 a.m. in the bronze-medal argument.
Playing with Fowler are third Allan Lyburn, second Richard Daneault and lead Derek Samagalski.
“That wasn’t the vintage Rob Fowler team we’ve seen the last couple of years,” said Howard of his opponent’s performance.
“We went right after them. We threw the corner guard and got a really nice deuce in that first end. That gives you a little bit of momentum right off the bat.
“Rob struggled a bit today but I’m sure he’ll give it a run in the semi-final. The score didn’t indicate the play. They just missed a couple of shots here and there.”
Fowler and his troops never were in this one from the time Ontario struck for the opening deuce.
The Manitoba skip wasn’t perfect with a freeze in the back corner and Howard made a precise takeout.
Fowler blanked the third but was dead heavy on an attempted rub to the button looking at four enemy stones in the third end. He nosed the hit instead of getting the roll and gave up a steal of two in the four-foot and a four-point disadvantage.(Continued below…)
The jig was up in the fifth after Fowler took one in the fourth. Looking at three, the Manitoba skip attempted a tight triple-kill but succeeded in erasing only one offending stone. That left Howard with a routine draw for the three-spot and a 7-1 lead.
Fowler executed a cold draw to the pot looking at rocks on either side of the four-foot in the sixth. But he was too deep on a draw to the back of the four in the seventh and Howard executed a perfect-weight bump for another pair.
Fowler threw in the towel after taking a point in the eighth panel.
The 36-year-old Manitoba skip appeared anything but perturbed following the shellacking.
“They just came hard at us early,” he assessed. “My last shot in the first end and then a little click-off in the third end got us behind the eight-ball.
“We’re a step ahead of where we would have been if Alberta had won last night, though. We would have been looking at the Three-Four playoff and we’re already a step ahead of that. So we’ll work with that. We have two wins to get to where we want to go.”
Fowler admitted he was tricked by the ice.
“We got caught a little bit early,” he said. “The sheet was faster and straighter — that’s a common thing late in an event like this. But until you see it and feel it, sometimes it’s hard for the throwers to adjust. If you were to look at the two or three misses that cost us early in the game, it was all shots that ran a little straighter and were thrown a little heavy.
“We’ll be able to use that information and come back to get the win we need in the semi-final. We’re capable of playing a lot better than we’ve played in the last two games against them. We know that if we play our A-game, they’re going to have a tough time beating us.
“You’d always like to take the short road or the easy road but we did the same thing in our provincials. Essentially this is going to take the same type of effort.”
The most lopsided previous Page One-Two games in the Brier transpired in 1998 when Middaugh hammered Guy Hemmings of Quebec 10-4 and in 2003 when Randy Ferbey clubbed Pat Ryan of Kelowna 8-2.
The last five have been last-rock affairs, two of them requiring extra ends.
A total of 9,632 witnessed Friday night’s tussle.