Rockin' start for favourites

Skips Glenn Howard (left) and Wayne Middaugh (right) both won twice at the Ontario men's curling...

Skips Glenn Howard (left) and Wayne Middaugh (right) both won twice at the Ontario men's curling championship in Sarnia, Ont., on Monday. (Sun Media File/Dave Abel)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

SARNIA -- Oddsmakers would give you long odds if you were willing to lay down hard earned coin on anyone other than Glenn Howard or Wayne Middaugh winning the Ontario men's curling championship.

Howard and Middaugh look like the class of the field. They play more than any of the other rinks and against the top teams in Canada.

Howard is the defending champion while Middaugh is a three-time winner who last won in 2005.

Both started well yesterday, winning twice at the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre. Middaugh, from the St. George's Golf and Curling Club, scored three in the first end and went on to beat Sarnia's Heath McCormick 7-4, then he stole two in the 10th to beat Wayne Warren of Cannington 8-6.

Howard, from Coldwater, didn't play a complete game, defeating the crazily dreadlocked Damien Villard from Renfrew 8-2 in six ends and Greg Balsdon of Guelph 9-4 in eight ends.

The two share first place with Jim Lyle of St. Thomas.

But Howard and Middaugh caution against filling in the draw sheet before all the games have been played.

"I guess we're one of the favourites coming in here for sure," Howard said. "But the teams are going to play very well against us. They know they have to play well, as we do. We've got to play at the top of our game or we're not going to win all our games.

"We've played really well this year. The bottom line, if we play the way we played all year, I like our chances."

Middaugh is the first to agree.

"Glenn is the favourite. We're one of the other contenders," Middaugh said. "Glenn's had a great year. He's one of the top teams in the world. The other nine teams are trying to knock Glenn off, trying to keep him honest. We haven't played as much and it shows."

Though Howard looked sharp in his first game, he's been around enough to know it's a marathon, not a sprint.

"It's a long week, I've done this a lot of years, I think this is the 20th time I've been banging heads here," he said. "I'm a little sluggish, I just feel tired and I haven't even gotten started."

But Howard doesn't expect it will take long to get the juices flowing.

"Normally it doesn't take much (to get going.) We just love to compete. We love to win," he said. "We have to do everything we can to get to the end of the week. We just have to keep getting wins under our belt to get to the final. How we get there, I don't really care.

"As long as get to the final, it doesn't matter what direction you get there."

Teams like Middaugh's and Howard's are constant targets.

"You're always under pressure," Howard said. "We deal with it with experience. We've been in this position 100 times. It's no different than the last time. You just put yourself in that position to get there and hopefully you win that one final game."

Sometimes the best chance of knocking these guys off is playing them early when the ice conditions are harder to read. But both like the ice. Howard calls it fast, swingy and really consistent."

"You can bury a rock anywhere on the sheet and that's good," Middaugh said.

Middaugh and Howard don't meet until Thursday's evening draw. Middaugh leaves no doubt as who should be the favourite.

"We haven't been at our best all year," he said. "If we can hang in and get one of those playoff spots, we're going to be very, very happy. We've been playing well, but we're not playing at Glenn's level."

In other first-draw games, Jim Lyle of St. Thomas beat Bryan Cochrane's RCMP CC rink 9-5, Balsdon downed Robert Stafford of Chatham Granite 6-2 and John Epping of Omemee beat Warren 8-5.

In the second draw, Lyle beat Stafford 7-6, McCormick stole one in the 10th end to beat Epping 7-6 and Villard defeated Cochrane 9-7.


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