When Kevin Martin defeated Glenn Howard to earn the trip to Vancouver 2010, a number of wheels were set in motion.
Howard will now compete at Napanee in February, and try to win his fourth consecutive Ontario men’s Tankard title. It’s the first time the defending champion has been given a bye directly to the provincial final, and it couldn’t come at a better time for Ontario.
Team Howard is a big draw, and the event is without a title sponsor for the first time since 2004.
If Howard had defeated Martin, it would have been full steam ahead to the Olympics for the Ontarians and a no-show in Napanee. Instead, it’s Martin who has declared his intention to skip the Alberta playdowns and focus on Vancouver.
This means Martin’s own four-year run as provincial champion is over, and the door is open for Randy Ferbey, Kevin Koe, Ted Appelman or someone else to wear the blue and gold at the Halifax Brier in March.
QMI Agency’s Terry Jones raised a ruckus last season by pointing out that Howard had to win some 20 games to grab the 2009 Ontario title — he lost another two along the way — while Martin, who had a bye to the Alberta shootout, had to play, and win, only seven games.
That didn’t seem right, Jonesy harrumphed.
All the while, Ontarians bleated that their top squad(s) should have a bye directly into the provincial, with strong Tour performances creating this “top” status.
Kudos to the Ontario Curling Association for finally listening to its athletes, hosting an open forum and then moving forward with the change.
Many other provinces have a similar system in place, with Saskatchewan granting multiple provincial berths based on earlier season accomplishments.
Even the Canadian Curling Association is considering change to the Brier championship model. Imagine the defending champions, and Nunavut, joining a field of 14 Brier teams, split into two pools of play.
As playdown entries continue to slide and the strongest teams continue to dominate, championship events need to guarantee big names will appear.
Particularly when they’re short a title sponsor.
Peter Corner of Brampton, the 2008 and ’09 Tankard finalist, and Rob Lobel of Whitby, who competed in the same event, have both qualified for the shootout in Napanee. Tickets are available through 2010Tankard.com ... Carly Howard, Glenn’s daughter, is skipping a team at the Ontario junior championships in Teeswater ... The Ontario women’s Scotties Tournament of Hearts begins today in Thunder Bay, and with no Sherry Middaugh. She was eliminated earlier. Hometown heroine Krista McCarville is the heavy favourite, with Toronto hopes resting on Bayview’s Julie Hastings and Mississauga’s Cathy Auld. Ottawa’s Jenn Hanna also has a T.O. connection: Her lead is East York’s Kelly Cochrane, who won The Dominion Club Championship ... Glenn Howard takes on Barrie’s Dale Matchett on Wednesday at Guelph’s Sleeman Centre to kick off The National. David Murdoch’s Great Britain Olympic team is also in town, taking on Winnipeg’s Kerry Burtnyk, as is Olympian Kevin Martin, who battles Saskatchewan’s Pat Simmons on Thursday. The finals of the $100,000 Grand Slam event are on Sunday and tickets are available through Ticketmaster ... TSN’s Casino Rama Skins Curling Game goes the next weekend (Jan. 16-17) with Martin, Howard, Murdoch and Randy Ferbey battling for another 100K prize purse. Ducats are also available at Ticketmaster, and the slot machines are just a step away from the ice surface.
George Karrys, an Olympian, is: curlinguru.com