Setting up the sacrifice

CON GRIWKOWSKY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

These days, it seems the only team in the world capable of beating Kevin Martin is Glenn Howard.

Or vice versa, as was the case last year when Martin's win over Howard at the Brier opened the path to Martin's first world championship.

About the only scrap of good news for the other 11 teams heading to Wainwright for the Feb. 11-15 Alberta men's championship is that Howard lives in Ontario.

The bad news is that the path to this year's Brier in Calgary is blocked by Martin, a heavy favourite to capture his third straight Alberta title.

And, when three of the top six teams in the world are based in Edmonton ... well, if you can get past one of them, two more are waiting to crush you.

Kevin Koe and Randy Ferbey would be automatic Brier reps in any other province.

Still, they keep trying.

Yesterday, Edmonton's Mike Hutchings won the C Event of the men's northern playdowns, outlasting Shawn Broda of Bonnyville 8-7 to join James Pahl and Jamie King as apparent sacrificial lambs.

It was an incredible turn of events as Broda's last rock crashed on a guard. Hutchings stole a pair to overcome a 7-2 deficit after five ends.

"We were down five with five ends to go, so we just thought let's see where it goes," said last rock thrower Kevin Skarban.

"We did it the hard way. We'll take it. Coming in, I never honestly thought we'd even make a final. We're a once-a-week kind of team in the Super League. Once we get on a roll, I think we're a pretty good team."

QUALIFIED

Curiously, both Hutchings and Pahl qualified for this event out of the Last Chance Spiel.

"All but one of us were at Panorama snowboarding during the city playdowns," said Skarban, painting his team as a fun-loving group.

"That's the kind of guys we are. Luckily, nobody got hurt. We just figured we'd go into the Last Chance and if we got through, we'd go to the northerns. Now, we're going to the provincials."

Skarban is well aware the field at Wainwright is more treacherous than the nastiest moguls on the mountain.

BATTLING

"I think we'll take a positive out of this," said Skarban. "We were down a couple of times and we kept battling back.

"We played seven games and that's normally two months of curling for us. We got some experience going."

Nobody on the team, including second Brian McPherson and lead Derek Skarban has any experience at a provincial championship, but the team whose average age is in the mid-20's is looking forward to tackling their next mountain.

"The next level is huge," said Keith Skarban. "Alberta has the best teams in the world, even in Edmonton. You've got Ted Appelman, you've got Martin, you've got Ferbey.

"Let's just go in there and surprise some people. They might take us lightly. If we curled like we did this morning (shooting 95%), I think we can go against anybody."

They took an improbable path to the C final. After dropping two of their first three starts, they ran off a four-game win streak.

"After the first day, we're down in the C Event and pretty much down on ourselves," said Skarban, who played on three Alberta junior championship teams. "We thought if we get on a roll, teams that are losing are going to be coming down to us."

EXTRA ENDS: Edmonton's influence on the curling world reaches beyond northern Alberta.

Heck, the top contender out of the South is A Event winner Steve Petryk, a skip who's recruited Sherwood Park's Rob Schlender to throw last rocks ... Perennial contender Kurt Balderston of Sexsmith has qualified out of the Peace District.


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