Howard clinches top spot already
EDMONTON—Ontario’s Glenn Howard clinched first place in the preliminary round at the Canadian men’s curling championship before his team even had to play their final two games.
A 4-2 win last night over Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard put the defending champs at 9-0.
“The bottom line is, I think we’re No. 1 no matter what,” Howard noted.
“That’s the first goal, so we made it,” he added. “With two games to go, that’s fantastic.”
The top four teams at the conclusion of the round-robin tonight make the Page playoffs, with ties for fourth solved by tie-breaker games.
Eight wins has made the cut every year since playoffs were introduced into the Brier format in 1980.
Seven wins has been good enough some years, but not enough for teams with four losses to be confident of securing a top-four spot.
A tie-breaker game is a more realistic hope for a team that sits at 7-4.
The top two teams from the preliminary round meet in a Page playoff Saturday, with the winners punching their ticket to Sunday night’s final.
The loser drops to Sunday morning’s semi-final against the winner of Saturday’s playoff between the third and fourth seeds.
So Howard’s reward for a top-two finish is a second chance in the playoffs.
He will make a bid to go undefeated through the preliminary round. His was the last team to do so when Ontario went 11-0 at the 2010 Brier in Halifax.
Alberta’s Kevin Martin also went unbeaten in the 2008 and 2009 Briers.
Howard’s rink finishes the round-robin versus Prince Edward Island and then, coincidentally, Martin in tonight’s final draw.
“We’re going to go and try and win our next two,” the Ontario skip vowed.
After ruthlessly mowing through the field for most of the week, Howard had to sweat for a pair of wins yesterday.
Ontario held off a tenacious Newfoundland 6-5 yesterday afternoon before Quebec’s Menard missed an in-off by mere centimetres for the win last night.
Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs and Quebec were both at 6-3, ahead of Martin at 5-4, heading into today’s action.
Saskatchewan’s Brock Virtue and New Brunswick’s James Grattan were both 4-5.
Jamie Koe of the Territories (3-6) was eliminated from playoff contention yesterday, as were the 1-8 teams of B.C.’s Andrew Bilesky, Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming, and P.E.I.’s Eddie MacKenzie.
Manitoba fell 9-4 to an inspired Northern Ontario team last night, but still was in position to claim a top-two seeding today.
Stoughton has the Territories and B.C. as his final round-robin opponents.
“It’s good that we don’t have to look around and watch anybody else,” Stoughton said.
“We just have to beat Territories and B.C. at night, so we’ll take it.”
Northern Ontario had lost three of four going into the game versus Manitoba, but won emphatically. Manitoba curled 91 percent as a team but the Sault Ste. Marie foursome one-upped them at 92 percent.
“We all drank a huge Red Bull before the game, honestly,” Jacobs noted.
“Just feels good to have our back against the wall slightly and come out and play as well as we did, especially after we’ve been struggling the last few games.
“I think we’d been watching the standings a little bit too much,” he admitted. “We just backed off of that and said, ‘Guys, let’s just go out and play like we can’ and we had a nice little talk before the game.
“Everyone just had the eye of the tiger tonight,” Jacobs added.
“It was refreshing to see that because we hadn’t had that fierceness the last few games.”
Jacobs also has two winnable games today versus P.E.I. and Nova Scotia.
Meanwhile, after losing four of its first five, the host province was giving Rexall Place a reason to keep faith.
Four-time Canadian champ Martin edged Saskatchewan 6-5 for a fourth-straight win. But the Edmonton team faces two formidable opponents today: Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador.
“It’s a faint heartbeat, but there’s still a heartbeat,” Martin said.
Another notable game today is Quebec’s Menard, who upset Howard to win the 2006 Canadian championship, versus 2006 Olympic gold-medallist Gushue.