Howard a fan favourite in opener

Glenn Howard calls out to his sweepers during opening-round play against Steve Laycock's rink at...

Glenn Howard calls out to his sweepers during opening-round play against Steve Laycock's rink at the BDO Canadian Open in Kingston, Ont. on Wed., Dec. 14, 2011. (Michael Lea\QMI Agency)

DOUG GRAHAM, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

KINGSTON, ONT. - With Glenn Howard in the house, curling fans at the BDO Canadian Open were quick to acknowledge who was Lord of the Rings in their minds.

Howard, who won his 12th Ontario championship in Napanee in 2010, received the loudest cheers in practice and gave more than 1,200 fans no reason to sit quiet during the opening draw of the BDO Canadian Open on Wednesday night at the K-Rock Centre.

Team Howard, which features new third Wayne Middaugh, a Brier skip champion himself, scored early and often in a 7-1 victory over Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock.

"I guess we're a little bit local compared to the rest,” said the skip from Coldwater. “It is great to be back. I've been in a few provincials here. Hopefully fans are pulling for us.”

Howard, 49, was impressed with the ice Mark Shurek has produced for the curlers.

"The ice is fantastic. Usually in the first game of any Grand Slams it's a little touchy but we have super conditions," Howard said.

"It is curling like crazy and that is what we want. Lots of curl and consistency. Beautiful."

Howard wasn't alone in marvelling at the 5 1/2 to 6 feet of curl. Winnipeg's Mike McEwen, who has made his name with his Grand Slam victories over the last couple years, had a first for him early in what turned out to be an 8-2 win over Mark Kean of Ontario.

McEwen was out to the divider bumper at the right hand of sheet A to give a draw to the four foot to one of his players.

"I don't think I have ever done that before. Hold the (brush) at the grey (divider) foam," McEwen said.

"You can make anything out here with that type of curl. It's almost scary."

Team McEwen —because it had such an early lead, 4-0 after two ends and 7-2 after five — had to deal with the new five-rock rule, which is in play for the first time.

"We've got a lead in the game and there is still eight, nine, 10 rocks in play. I'm thinking we are one miss away from giving up a big end," McEwen said.

"The five rocks (a rule which prevents teams from taking off guards until the sixth rock of an end) comes into play when you have the lead. You can't run," said McEwen, referring to the fact that plenty of rocks will be around.

"You just have to keep piling in the rocks."

The one big upset of the opening draw saw Sault Ste. Marie's Brad Jacobs edge Alberta's Kevin Martin 4-3. The Soo team had Martin coming from behind all game and Jacobs finished off the win with a last-shot draw to the four foot in the eighth.

Defending world champion Jeff Stoughton recovered from dropping a three ender early to edge fellow Manitoban Rob Fowler 6-5. Kevin Koe of Alberta edged Jean-Michel Menard of Quebec, 5-4.

Howard, who has played in 13 Briers and three world championships, said the Grand Slam events are the best of the best as far as he is concerned.

"The best curling you will ever see bar none," Howard said.

"No Briers or world (championships) compare to these Grand Slams. If you want to watch the best curling and you like the game, you should come out to the K-Rock," Howard said.

"The crowd was great tonight and I think they are going to get better all week."

The curlers wasted little time showing off the big shots with the best of several in the opening end by Stoughton. With third Jon Mead holding his brush up close to the out-of-play board, Stoughton drew to the button against three Team Fowler counters.

The Manitoba battle swung again in the next end when Fowler made good on a three-count with last rock. Stoughton turned the game his way with a steal of one in the sixth and scored the winning point in the eighth.

Stoughton and Laycock are the only two skips for Wednesday's first round action who will be right back at it (for a head-to-head contest) in Draw 2 on Thursday morning at 9.

Sweden's Niklas Edin and Scotland's Tom Brewster both see their first action. Edin is against Brad Gushue and Brewster faces young John Epping. In an all-Alberta matchup, Randy Ferbey plays Rob Schlender. Jim Cotter is against Dale Matchett in the other game.


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