It’s Howard vs Martin for first place tonight

Glenn Howard and Kevin Martin both clinched a playoff appearance Thursday morning at the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings, presented by Monsanto, while Jeff Stoughton’s dramatic victory left him in prime position for the third and final ticket of the playoff round. Howard, of Coldwater, Ont., scored an 8-6 victory over Edmonton’s Randy Ferbey at Rexall Place, helped out by a critical ninth-end steal of two at these Canadian Curling Trials. Martin was forced to an extra end in an all-Edmonton battle with Kevin Koe, but emerged with an 8-7 win. Meanwhile, Winnipeg’s Stoughton was looking at a complicated playoff picture until he stole one in the 10th end and another in the 11th to eke out a monumental 7-6 win over Toronto’s Wayne Middaugh. As for Howard and his Coldwater & District Curling Club rink of Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill, they’re cruising along with a 6-and-0 mark, one game head of Martin (5-1), with the two scheduled to clash in the round-robin finale Thursday evening at 6 p.m. MT. The winner advances to Sunday’s 1 p.m. MT final, while the loser will play in the No. 2-vs.-No. 3 semifinal on Saturday at 1 p.m. “The good news is, we’re keeping up with Cheryl Bernard, anyway,” laughed Howard, referring to the Calgary-based leader in the women’s standings, who also has a 6-0 record. “I thought it was a heck of a game. A few misses here and there, but a lot of really great shots. “We (Martin and Howard) have had some battles over the years. It’s probably 50-50 . . . and usually epic battles. I’m hoping for a similar sort of game to the ones we played in the Brier last year (in Calgary, both Martin wins), with a little different outcome.” Stoughton (4-2) is third in the standings, one win ahead of Koe and Ferbey (both 3-3). Pat Simmons of Davidson, Sask. (2-4), who defeated Jason Gunnlaugson of Beausejour, Man., 6-2 on Thursday morning, is out of playoff contention, as are Middaugh (1-5) and Gunnlaugson (0-6). Howard was up 6-5 in the ninth end when the Ferbey rink, which includes third Dave Nedohin throwing last rocks, Scott Pfeifer, and Marcel Rocque, made a critical decision to go for a difficult double-kill to score two.  Nedohin missed the shot, just glancing off Howard’s shot stone, and the 2007 Ford World men’s champions were in complete control with an 8-5 lead. “It was a team decision,” said Ferbey. “If Dave gets one, what are our chances of stealing one (later), or do we (go for) two here? And I figured we were due to make one of these. You know what? He was a half-inch out, and unfortunately he had to miss it on the wide side like that for a steal of two.” Ferbey must now defeat Koe in Thursday’s 6 p.m. MT draw and hope for some help. “We’ve got to win now, for sure,” said Ferbey, who acknowledged Stoughton’s win was “not real good (for the Ferbey crew’s playoff chances). We’ll see what happens tonight.  I don’t know how much better we can play.  That was probably our best effort the whole six games, and we come out on the losing end of it, which is a bit of a sour note. All credit to them. They played well.  I’m not disappointed in the way we played; I’m just disappointed in the result.” Martin, meanwhile, was taken to overtime after Koe scored a deuce in the 10th end with a last-rock hit-and-stick. But in the 11th, facing two red Koe rocks in the rings, Martin made a draw to the 12-foot for the victory. “It was a tough game. They got a big three on us early, and we battled back, which was nice,” said Martin, whose Saville Sports Centre outfit includes John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert. “The guys are playing really well, fired up. But it’ll be a tough game tonight (against Howard), that’s for sure. It’ll be a battle . . . we said 5-and-2 (as a goal), and we can’t be worse than that, at 5-and-1. Now we’ve got a chance for first . . . I’d say, yeah, that’s all we could expect, for sure.” Koe, leading a Saville Sports Centre quartet that includes Blake MacDonald, Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen, had jumped out to a 3-1 lead, but acknowledged that Martin’s theft of two points in the fifth end — which gave the defending Brier champs a 4-3 advantage — turned the game on its ear. “We gave that away, missed a big shot,” said Koe. “We were crushing them on the ice the first half of the game, and one bad miss by me let ’em back in. After that, they picked up their game.” Noted Martin: “The steal of two, definitely. That was a big steal. If Kevin makes the tap for one, we’re still two down, even ends . . . not bad. But the steal of two was the turning point, for sure.” As for Stoughton, and his Charleswood Curling Club team of Kevin Park, Rob Fowler and Steve Gould, things were looking grim, with a 6-4 disadvantage after eight ends. But the Winnipeggers scored one in the ninth. Middaugh then wrecked on a guard with his final shot of the 10th, allowing a steal of one and a 6-6 game heading into an extra end. And in that 11th, Middaugh played a hit-and-roll with his final brick, but rolled too far and gave Stoughton another critical steal. “We were fortunate. Wayne came a little heavy with his last one, and we’re going to take it,” said Stoughton. “We haven’t had very many good breaks go our way, and that was our first big one. We certainly needed it.  So we’ll take it from here. We win our last game (against Simmons in the evening draw), and we’re in the semi. It’s a great position for us to be in, that’s for sure. “Yeah, I was getting the broom bag out (in advance of Middaugh’s final throw of the 10th),” laughed Stoughton. “I honestly didn’t think he would miss that. I was surprised he threw it that light. But like (third Jon) Mead) said, he seemed to be worried about coming off ours, hitting his own (in the rings) and leaving our top one in the eight-foot.” In Thursday’s other evening game, Gunnlaugson seeks his first win against Middaugh. During Thursday’s lone women’s draw, at 1 p.m. MT, Bernard plays Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton (3-3), Calgary’s Shannon Kleibrink (4-2) meets Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones (2-4), Thunder Bay’s Krista McCarville (3-3) squares off against Calgary’s Crystal Webster (2-4) and Amber Holland (3-3) of Kronau, Sask., clashes with Kelowna’s Kelly Scott (1-5). Bernard has clinched a berth in Saturday’s 6 p.m. women’s final, and Kleibrink a semi-final berth on Friday evening, but every other rink, save Scott, entered the final round robin draw still in the playoff picture.