A long road for Russ

CON GRIWKOWSKY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:53 AM ET

A realization came over Russ Howard as he was landing at Edmonton International for the Canada Cup qualifier at the Saville Centre.

It was here that Howard first burst into curling prominence, where he went on to win the 1987 Brier at the AgriCom.

"When I landed last night at the Edmonton airport I thought to myself 'Geez, that was 21 years ago.' Unbelievable," said Howard, who had his brother Glenn in that supporting cast. "It's been a long career."

But time flies when you're having fun.

Howard added Wayne Middaugh into the lineup and went on to win his second Brier and world title in 1993, along the way becoming one of the more colourful characters in the history of the game.

His nickname, Hurry Hard, came from his passionate sweeping calls, described by some as the cry of a wailing moose in heat.

He is also credited with inspiring the creation of the free guard zone, which injected a much-needed dimension to the on-ice game.

And, the guy can still play.

When the event was held in Ottawa last year, Howard skipped his team into the semifinal and a berth to the 2008 Canada Cup in Kamloops.

In a typically unconventional move, Howard's team declined to make the trip out west from Moncton.

"We chickened out and didn't go to the next stage," said Howard.

"It's so costly. We were going to spend about seven grand. I think our draw was Glenn (his brother), Kevin Martin, Kerry Burtnyk, Randy Ferbey and Jeff Stoughton and the guys went, 'Oops.' "

This time around, Howard won't let the chance slip by again. There's just too many points at stake.

"We won't do that this time if we get lucky enough to qualify," said Howard. "I'm always up to play against great teams on great ice and that's what this event is."

This event kicks off a bit of a prolonged stay in the Edmonton area for Howard, who will be in Camrose next week as captain for Team North America at the Continental Cup.

"We'd already decided to come here and I was asked to be captain after," said Howard. "We were coming out one way or another. It's perfect. I get a day or two off and then we're off to Camrose."

Howard joins a long list of curling greats who have captained Team North America, following former Edmontonian Pat Ryan, who held the role last year.

"When they start asking you to be the captain, you know you're getting old," laughed Howard.

The game definitely has changed and he has been an agent of change.

"The Brier's still big, but everybody seems to be putting teams together with a four-year plan for the Olympics -- and not necessarily with players from your own province," said Howard.

Howard was an example of that, coming in as a fifth man for Brad Gushue and going on to help Gushue win the 2006 Olympic gold medal.

"That was unbelievable," he said. "That was the thrill of my curling career, for sure. To win a gold medal, I'm still pinching myself."

Getting through the Olympics seemed much easier than getting there.

"Basically, the hardest event was to get out of Canada and win the Olympic Trials in Halifax," said Howard.

"It's neat that the event is going to be right here in Edmonton next year. I've played a lot of events and that was the best field of curlers I'd ever seen in my life.

"The 10 mens' and 10 ladies' teams at the Trials were ... wow. My best example is we were ranked ninth going into them.

"Once we won, we were ranked No. 1 to win the Olympic gold medal. That's how good the field was."

The dream never dies.


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