With one draw to go, playoff picture clear as mud

Kevin Martin has secured himself at least a playoff tiebreaker game at the Canada Cup. Then again, the defending Olympic men’s curling champion has always preferred the direct route. “There’s a whole bunch of things that could happen tonight. We could be in first place. We could be in a tiebreaker,” said Martin, of Edmonton, who improved his record to 4-0 in men’s Pool A standings with an 8-2 whipping of Calgary’s Brent Bawel in Friday afternoon’s Draw 9 at The Arena. Martin’s foursome faces fellow Edmontonian Randy Ferbey (3-1) in Draw 10, the Canada Cup’s pool-play finale, on Friday evening starting at 6 p.m. MT, and “it’s a big game for us,” noted Martin. “There’s a big difference between first place and a tiebreaker. “The odds of winning in this field out of a tiebreaker are very slim,” added Martin, whose Saville Sports Centre team includes third John Morris, second Marc Kennedy, and lead Ben Hebert. “It’s a huge game for us tonight.” Following Draw 9, the playoff picture is still as clear as mud at the first major event on the Canadian Curling Association’s 2010-11 season. In all, six women’s and six men’s teams are still in the hunt for eight berths in the playoff round, which begins Saturday with crossover Page Playoff games. Among the men, three Pool A teams — Martin (4-0), Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen (4-1), and Ferbey (3-1) — and three Pool B squads — Glenn Howard (4-0) of Coldwater, Ont., Kevin Koe (3-1) of Edmonton, and Jeff Stoughton (3-2) of Winnipeg — are still alive. As for the women, a trio of Pool A crews — Calgary’s Shannon Kleibrink (4-0), Saskatoon’s Stefanie Lawton (4-1), and Winnipeg’s Jennifer Jones (3-1) — and a triad of Pool B outfits — Calgary’s Cheryl Bernard (4-1), Krista McCarville (3-1) of Thunder Bay, Ont., and Amber Holland (2-2) of Kronau, Sask. — also are still in the playoff picture. The whole scene hinges on a handful of pivotal Draw 10 showdowns — Martin vs. Ferbey in men’s Pool A, Howard vs. Koe for top spot in men’s Pool B, Kleibrink vs. Jones in women’s Pool A, and McCarville vs. Edmonton’s Heather Nedohin (1-3), which could give McCarville the outright women’s Pool B pennant. When the smoke clears, tiebreakers may be required to decide the four men’s and four women’s playoff participants. Depending on the number of tiebreakers required, they would either be held late Friday night or Saturday morning. McEwen capped a two-win day by topping Serge Reid (1-4) of Jonquiere, Que., 7-3 on Friday afternoon. The game wasn’t decided until the eighth end, when the Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club quartet of McEwen, third B.J. Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak, and lead Denni Neufeld hung three points on the scoreboard. “There were a few tense moments out there. We had some trouble in both games today, and wriggled off the hook and played a better second half in both matches,” said McEwen. “If either Kevin beats Randy or Glenn beats Koe, then we’re straight in. Pretty good odds that one of those two guys are going to win. I like our chances. “The goal going in was probably 4-1 or better, and usually that will get you straight in. We’re hoping that’s the case,” he added. “(Reid’s crew) were actually very sharp the first half of the game. They made a ton of runbacks on us, and I missed a couple of easy ones. “They had us in some trouble. We were fortunate to get away a couple of ends with it being a one-point game or a tied score.”

Cheryl Bernard (Photo: CCA/Brennan Schnell)

Bernard and her silver-medal-winning crew at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games earned their fourth victory of the week with a surprisingly quick 7-1 win over Holland, a result that wrapped up after just six ends. Lawton and her gang equaled that feat, but did it the hard way — requiring an extra end to hold off Chelsea Carey of Morden, Man., 8-5. “We’re playing better and better and better. That was a four-of-us-together game,” said Bernard, whose Calgary Curling Club crew includes third Susan O’Connor, second Carolyn Darbyshire, and lead Cori Morris. “Two wins today. We knew that would put us in the playoffs, which was what we wanted. “It’s all about draw weight. We’re not getting in trouble putting stuff behind the T-line. And we’re throwing the right weights for hits. Our rock placement is a lot more accurate, and it has to be that way at this level.” Lawton, meanwhile, finally put things away on a hit-and-stick for three with her final rock of the 11th end. “We didn’t really want to go there (gambling on a 3-2 record). We wanted to put our fate in our hands, and put ourselves in a good position with a win,” said Lawton, whose Granite Curling Club outfit includes third Sherry Anderson, second Sherri Singler, and lead Marliese Kasner. “Now we see what happens in the last draw. There’s so many combinations with the round robin; you never really know until it’s finished how it’s going to turn out. “We’ve played (Carey) three times this year, and the last couple of times they beat us,” she added. “We know they’re a great team, and we had to play well against them. We just happened to pull it off today.” Stoughton’s team finished off its pool schedule with three straight wins, defeating former teammate Rob Fowler of Brandon, Man., by a 9-5 count on Friday afternoon on the strength of three in the ninth. “We’ll look forward to something, hopefully. I hope we get to keep playing, and if not, we only can blame ourselves for not playing better the first day,” said Stoughton, whose Charleswood Curling Club team includes third Jon Mead, second Reid Carruthers, and lead Steve Gould. “We need the top two guns to finish off the round robin — Martin and Howard to win tonight — and then we’ll be playing. Hopefully we can count on that.” The Stoughton-Fowler game was punctuated by an unusual occurrence — a measure in the eighth end that couldn’t produce a verdict and resulted in a blanked end. “A little unusual. The measuring stick was kind of wobbling a bit, but all four or five times they measured, it was pretty darn close, and he couldn’t make the call,” said Stoughton. “That’s actually the second time that’s happened to us this year. Never had it before, though.”