Teamwork is proving to be the key for Kevin Martin’s defending Olympic champion quartet as they head into today’s (12:30 p.m.) championship final in the Canada Cup of Curling.
The Edmonton-based Martin outfit won its sixth straight game at the Canadian Curling Association’s first major event of the season, defeating Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont., 7-4 in the Page One playoff game at The Arena on Saturday morning.
“We feel good. It’s the truth,” said Martin, whose Saville Sports Centre outfit includes third John Morris, second Marc Kennedy, and lead Ben Hebert.
“I didn’t play very well, but then John did. And John didn’t play very well last night (in their pool-play finale against Randy Ferbey), so then Marc did. So it’s all up to somebody else.”
Which is to say, it’s a team game.
Howard, whose record against Martin is far from scintillating — 0-for-6 in the Tim Hortons Brier, 1-for-3 in the Canadian Olympic trials and the Canada Cup and 1-for-2 in the Players’ championship, earned another return match with the gold-medal team Saturday night by ousting defending Brier champion Kevin Koe of Edmonton 9-7 in the semi-final.
“We’re all mentally ready,” said Howard afterward. “It’s just all four of us have to be playing well. My front end struggled this morning and put a lot of pressure on us. We had a couple of bad rocks we didn’t pick up on. But for this game we get to pick a whole net. I think we’ll be fine.”
The Ontario skip admitted his record against the Martin outfit has been “horrible lately”.
“The last few years he’s got us just about every time. We throw the odd one in there for his three or four.
“We didn’t play well at all this morning. I felt the first four or five ends he should have blown us out. We just have to come out better this time.”
The semi-final progressed in yo-yo fashion for openers. Howard opened with a deuce, Koe replied with one and then stole two in the third when Howard admitted pulled the string on a last-rock draw.
But Koe couldn’t abide with that prosperity. Howard rebounded with a four-ender in the fourth end when two gambling big-weight shots from Koe failed to come off.
“He threw two bad one,” said Howard. “He doesn’t usually miss those. Even the second one was set up for the triple.”
Said Koe, who had earlier deflated Winnipeg’s Mike McEwen 10-7 in a wild Page Two playoff match:
“We had a couple of bad ends and I had a shot, right in my wheelhouse, to bail us out and I missed it and gave up the big four points and that was the big turning point.
“I threw them hard, maybe I went too hard, but I had to kill at least one of them. I thought I could have got them all, I’m usually pretty good at those, and that would have been deflating for them, but not this time.”
The teams swapped singles over the next three ends but Koe, trailing 7-5 couldn’t get his rock on the button covered by a last-rock guard in the eighth and Howard chipped out the counter to score a deuce for a four-point lead.
Martin has won the last four confrontations with Howard dating back to Howard’s win at the Cactus Pheasant Classic at Brooks in October. 2009.
The Edmontonians jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, Howard struck back to tie the score 4-4, and Martin scored singles in each of the eighth, ninth, and 10th ends for the win.
“I was a little heavy on all my shots,” said Martin. “I didn’t get the rolls. I ended up being close to the nose all the time. Glenn was getting the rolls. It was one of those days when John had to step up to the plate. And that’s a good team when one guy will cover for the other.”
The Howard team, including third Wayne Middaugh, second Brent Laing, and lead Craig Savill, didn’t get on the board until the fifth end with a deuce.
“We hung on and made a real good game of it,” said Howard. “If I throw a little better shot in nine, we get our deuce, and it would have been a whole different ball game. At that point, I didn’t think we deserved to be in it. But I threw a little heavier than I wanted, and it ran, and he stole one. That was totally deflating.”
Koe took the long route to the semi after losing a first-place qualifying-pool battle to Howard by an 8-6 tally by sifting his last rock through the four-foot.
That sent him back on the ice in a late tiebreaker but he responded with a superlative performance, hammering Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg 11-4 in six ends.
Playing with third Blake MacDonald, second Carter Rycroft, and lead Nolan Thiessen, Koe kept up that momentum against McEwen — counting three in each of the fourth and sixth ends en route to victory.
“For us to come back and beat Stoughton and McEwen, who’s been having a great year, shows we’re mentally tough enough to shake that loss off,” said Koe.
Koe assessed his team’s tournament this way:
“We were pretty good this week but we definitely didn’t play out best. We had some trouble with draw weight all week so to make the semis was pretty good, but we still have a way to go this season in terms of the way we were playing at the end of last season.
“We’re sneaking out a few wins and making enough shots to get by but we’re not all firing as a team yet. We’re not putting in a totally strong effort.
“I’m closer to the guys now (residing in Calgary rather than Grande Prairie) but we haven’t had one team practice all year. There’s other stuff going on and no time just to go to Edmonton to practice.
“It’d be nice to get a chance to practice before the provincial playdowns. We’ll try to get together for a weekend and work on some things we need to work on.”