Last kick at the can

CON GRIWKOWSKY -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:33 AM ET

There's at least one more stop on Kevin Martin's farewell tour.

Martin, along with his battered and ailing crew, are headed for the Brier in Regina after their heart-stopping 7-5 win over Mark Johnson in yesterday's final of the Alberta Kia Cup.

It's the seventh rink Martin skips into the Brier and first since 2000, book-ending Randy Ferbey's historic five-year run.

And it's their second major win in a week, on the heels of the Canada Cup win in Kamloops last Sunday.

It's no secret this is lead Don Bartlett's last year. It's near-miraculous Bartlett has been able to carry on this long, given the condition of his back.

And third Don Walchuk has been battling a bowel condition that's landed him in hospital several times since the Olympic Trials.

"I actually told Carter (second Rycroft) today I told him six years ago I'll get him his first (Purple) Heart," said Walchuk. "He asked me before the game if I'd get him another one. I said, 'no', I think Kevin's going to get it for you and that's what happened."

GREAT CALL

With a great line call by Walchuk, Martin made a perfect flop behind cover with his last shot that set up a steal and the win.

"It's kind of a mixed feeling for me right now," said Walchuk. "It's been a long road for us.

"Kevin made a great shot when he had to. That could have gone either way in the 10th. Kevin's off an inch or two and Mark's got an easy draw for the win."

It has been a long road back to the Brier for this team.

Martin was one of the biggest promoters of the Grand Slam concept and sacrificed a couple of years (2002 and 2003) of playdowns activity just to get it going.

ALL TOGETHER AGAIN

The most satisfying part of yesterday's win for Martin is the fact his fellow Slammers Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba and Glenn Howard of Ontario have also qualified for the Brier.

"I'm glad we're all getting back at the same time," said Martin. "Our team, Stoughton's team and Howard's team, we let a lot of guys go to Briers without putting up a fight because we didn't compete.

"Howard's there, Stoughton's there and we're there. It's damn fitting. We gave up a lot of years of potential to help the game, we think. All three of us in there, there will be a couple of phone calls of congratulations tonight."

Bartlett had curtailed his curling activity to Slam events and refused to go into last year's playdowns because of his chronic back pain.

"I'm in such a situation that I really didn't care if we won or lost that one," said Bartlett. "Actually, for a couple of reasons. I sort of wanted Mark to go to experience what we've experienced. It's been a dream of his for a long time.

"It's going to be tough. Two games a day is almost killing me. I don't know what I'd do if we had to play three a day.

"It's the Brier, I guess, so I'll suck it up."

Bartlett may already have stepped away from the game had the Slams not come along.

"I've always wanted to be an Olympic and a world champion. This will probably be my last year, so it would be nice to go out on top."


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