PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. -- Competition was stiff at the Canad Inns Prairie Classic curling bonspiel on the weekend.
Some of the top rinks in the world made the World Curling Tour stop to chase the $58,000 purse, but since it's early in the season, the fierce competition was also used to get ready for the long curling season.
The opportunity to tune their game was appreciated by Glenn Howard's team. Howard's longtime third, Richard Hart, retired at the end of last season, so the team is getting used to its new vice Wayne Middaugh.
Throwing third stone is new to Middaugh, but he said he's ready for the learning curve.
"The more games we can get in the better," he said. "For me, I've only played four spiels at third in my life, so I'm still going through a learning curve and trying to catch up to where these guys already are."
Wayne and Howard aren't strangers by any stretch. They consider each other close friends and curled together for Howard's older brother Russ from 1990 to 1994. On that team, with Howard playing third and Middaugh second, they claimed the 1993 Labatt Brier and world championship. Since curling for Russ, both Glenn Howard and Middaugh have won a Brier and world championship as skip, but now 17 years since playing for Russ, the pair is ready to hit the ice together again.
"I know Wayne really well, he's a good friend, we've curled a ton of games together in the past and even recently," Howard said.
While Howard is familiar with Middaugh's game, he said the whole team needs to become cohesive and early bonspiels, such as the Prairie Classic, are perfect for that.
"As a foursome you want to gel and get to know each other," Howard said. "Obviously, he's a little different personality than Rich, so the early spiels you're not really sure what to expect, but we feel we can win most of our games and that's what we're trying to do."
Since Middaugh has skipped his own teams for a while now, but he has no problem playing alongside Howard and his team ó second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill.
"They were a great team long before I came along and I'm just trying to find my spot," Middaugh said.
"So far it has gone real good. They are so easy and they made me feel so welcome and part of the team. That's all the difference and it has been a ton of fun."
Middaugh said he is having a blast with his new team and having lots of fun on and off the ice.
"The guys all give 110%, but they all know it's not life and death, but we're all trying our best to win," Middaugh said.
Howard said the team is different with Middaugh in place instead of Hart, but the team still plans on being a force this season.
"He brings a few different aspects to our game than Rich did, but his personality is great and that's the key," Howard said. "You want guy that fits in and he's going to make a ton of shots for us."