Just like old times for Lyle

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

Jim Lyle is just happy to be here.

Really.

Now when you hear an athlete say that, the implication is he's merely playing down expectations. But the St. Thomas Curling Club skip is trying to downplay anything. He's just happy to have qualified for the Ontario men's curling championship at the Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre.

"It's nice to get back to this especially," said Lyle after his 9-5 first-round win over Bryan Cochrane's RCMP Curling Club. "We had more or less a reasonable expectations of doing well in (the Ontario senior's competition.) This is a real bonus for us. We are by far the oldest team here. To be able to come here one more time and play against two or three world-class teams, is a real treat for us. Two of our guys have never been here so that's special."

Lyle's rink, which includes third Kevin Breivik, second Ken Baute and lead Ted Smith, are all in their 50s.

Lyle was asked jokingly if because of his age he'd remember yesterday's game.

"Probably not but I'll be feeling a little sore after practicing and playing two games," he said.

Joking aside, this championship is a real grind and as the week wears on, so do the bodies of the older players.

"The grind is hard," Lyle said. "The guys are going to be tired. We practiced an hour this morning throwing rocks on every sheet and we never do that very often. It's tough, to sweep as hard as these guys. You watch these good teams, they sweep their tails off. It's a physical grind."

They played well in their first game, taking a 6-1 lead early against 2003 Ontario champ Cochrane.

"As a player, we can all throw the shot. It's a matter of throwing it consistently," Lyle said. "The good teams are practicing a lot more than we do. Their delivery is a lot more repeatable than ours is. We can throw them. We can play with them, it's just a matter of they can do it every game, we don't."

Lyle did it again in the evening draw, beating Robert Stafford of the Chatham Granite Club 7-6.

"I wouldn't rate us anywhere near the top four or five," Lyle said. "But anything can happen. The ice here is so much fun to play on. It's perfect for every shot, Our expectations aren't way up there but if we can get to around .500 we'd be happy."

The ice got rave reviews. It was quick and had just the right amount of swing in it. There were plenty of rocks in play in the Lyle-Cochrane match.

"Kevin and I talked about going a little less aggressive and keep it simple. It's not our strength putting all those rocks in play," Lyle said. "But we had good draw weight."

Lyle and Stafford are among three local teams. Heath McCormick of the host Sarnia Golf and Curling Club is the other.

Stafford lost 6-2 to Greg Balsdon of Guelph in the first draw. McCormick opened with a 7-4 loss to three-time Ontario champ Wayne Middaugh but rebounded with a 7-6 win over John Epping of Omemee.

Unlike Lyle, McCormick has one of the younger teams in the competition. But he isn't just happy to be here.

"Our goal coming here was to make the playoffs," he said. "We make the playoffs and then go from there. It's a sudden-death situation which is what makes it so interesting."

Most handicappers believe the final will be between Middaugh and Glenn Howard.

"You just come out and play," McCormick said. "The media and the world ranking is what makes them favourites but you just come out and play, as do they."

And given the benefit of the years of curling experience Lyle has, there's added value to his testifying that "anything can happen," because he's probably seen it happen.


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