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Ontario faces Manitoba in Brier final today

Glenn Howard must have a feeling that justice is within his reach.

The kind of long-awaited justice a guy figures he has coming after a history of runnerup finishes and assorted other disappointments at Tim Hortons Briers, Olympic curling trials, and so forth.

Photo: Michael Burns Photography

Photo: Michael Burns Photography

“I’ve come second so many times and if it happens again, whatever,” said the Ontario skip on Saturday night at the John Labatt Centre, moments after earning a berth in yet another Brier final by shading Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue 7-6 in the 2011 semi-final.

“I just want to win,” said the 48-year-old Howard who manages a Beer Store in Midland. “My teammates want to win. That’s what we came here for. But as long as we play well, it’s OK. If we go out there and throw a helluva good game and we lose, so be it. But when you play average that’s when it’s upsetting.

“Like last year’s (Brier) final (at Halifax). We played a terrific game, had one bad end, and Kevin Koe made some of the greatest shots I’ve seen in the 10th end and so be it. That happened. We threw everything at him and you don’t feel bad about it. But if you play average, that’s unacceptable.

“So we’ll play tomorrow and see what happens.”

The final assignment for Howard tonight at 7:30 p.m. is Page playoff One-Two survivor Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg  who defeated Newfoundland on Friday night. Newfoundland, Manitoba and Alberta finished with 9-2 records in the round-robin preliminary while Ontario, by virtue of a last-round loss to Alberta, was 8-3.

Ontario won two critical back-to-back decisions on Saturday. In the afternoon Page system Three-Four playoff, the fourth-ranked Howard avenged the earlier defeat and upended the third-ranked Alberta team of Olympic gold-medallist Kevin Martin 5-4.

In the evening tussle, played to 7,575 fans, Howard fashioned three deuces which prove enough for the edge over Gushue’s charges.

“I’ve been in this position a lot,” said Howard, who lost Brier finals in 2006, 2008 and 2010, and won the title in 2007, the last time the event was played in Ontario.

“I really like the way my team is playing right now. We are making lots of curling shots. We’re getting better, And that’s what great teams do. They get better as the playoffs come on.”

The No. 1-rated Gushue was relegated to this afternoon’s bronze-medal contest against Alberta’s Martin.

“I obviously want to win,” said Howard of tonight’s final, “but I feel so bad for Brad Gushue. He could end up fourth and he was first after the round robin.

The Ontario skip, with Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill in front, are taking tonight’s final in stride.

“We do our thing,” said Howard. “Go out and play our game. We won’t worry about it. It would be cool to win. But there are no guarantees in life. We didn’t want to lose to Kevin. We didn’t want to lose to Brad. It’s just another big game that we have to play.”

Howad and Gushue each were scored at 86 per cent of their shots but the match swung in the sixth end when Gushue had an open draw for a deuce and gassed it.

The teams had traded deuces until that point and Howard took yet another pair in the seventh to assume complete control of the issue. Gushue got that deuce back to tie it in the ninth but left Howard with the 10thend hammer and a routine hit to win.

“They’re a great team,” conceded Gushue, “but you have to make all the easy ones for sure to beat thm and to miss than draw in the sixth end is pretty upsetting. If I make that, it’s a different game.”

Instead of a 4-4 deadlock, Gushue would have been up 5-4 playing the seventh.

The Newfoundlander wasn’t overly exuberant about playing for the bronze today at :30 p.m.

“It’s very, very exciting to be playing the bronze medal game,” said Gushue with a touch of sarcasm. “We’re going to play, we’ll play hard. I don ‘t think we’ll be as focused but when we get on the ice the competitive juices will flow. I’m not too thrilled about having to play it. But it’s here, it’s part of the event, we’re going to do the event justice and hopefully come away with a bronze medal. But this wasn’t why we came here.”