STRATFORD, ONT. - While Glenn Howard continues to make easy work of things at the Ontario men's curling championship, what's happening below him in the standings is like a Sopranos marathon. Everyone is taking turns knocking each other off.
On a day when he could have played as many as 33 ends, Howard ended up going only 14 as he won all three of his games Wednesday at the Dominion Tankard. He sits at 7-0, has clinched at least a tiebreaker spot and is safe from the carnage beneath him.
His final win of the day was possibly the most surprising as he trounced Peter Corner of Brampton 11-1 in only six ends. Howard scored two in the first, stole singles in the second and third, tacked on a four-spot in the fifth and stole three more when Corner was light on a draw against three in the sixth.
"Ironically enough, we have," Howard said when asked if he'd ever had a three-game day go that easily. "But we caught Pete on an off day -- they didn't play as well as I know they can -- and we didn't miss much. But I think the turning point was the second end -- Pete had a chance at a double for two, but it just ran straight on him and instead of being tied, we're up three.
"I'm really happy with where we're at right now. We've gotten better just about every game and we're getting more used to the ice. But there's always room for improvement -- there's always that perfect game in all of us -- and who knows what's going to happen the next three games. All I know is we're going to keep the pedal to the metal because we never want to lose."
If there's such a thing as having the inside track on a dogfight, Corner has it as he's still in good shape at 4-2, tied for second with Tankard rookie skip Mike Anderson of Thornhill.
"It was my own fault, really," Corner said of the lopsided loss to Howard. "I'm exhausted. We'd played two nail-biting, grind-it-out games already today and my legs were tired. I couldn't get my slide down.
"They'd played less than 10 ends (coming in) and had long rests, but they're also a great team and Glenn made some great shots. And we have to be happy -- we're 4-2 and we still haven't played our best yet. It's very easy to put games like this behind us because we've been here before. And as long as you make the playoffs, then anyone can win. Anyone."
Anderson, meanwhile, pulled into the tie with Corner by beating Chris Gardner of Arnprior 7-6, stealing deuces in the first two ends to take control early.
"Let's do it," Anderson said when asked what his answer would have been if he'd been told he'd be 4-2. "I think coming in knowing we didn't have the expectations others did may have helped. If we miss a shot, well, people are expecting us to do that. But we've been able to put it in the back seat and move on. I think if there's one stat I'm really happy with it's our ability to make a shot after we miss one. We haven't missed two in a row very often."
Anderson plays Corner Thursday afternoon and Howard in the final draw Friday night, but he still feels good about his playoff chances.
"We came in thinking you had to win six for a tiebreaker," he said.
The way things are stacking up below him on the leaderboard, it may be good for even more. Greg Balsdon of Elgin Loonie, who had the night off, is at 3-3 along with Bryan Cochrane of Ottawa Rideau and Dayna Deruelle of Brampton. Jake Higgs of Harriston is at 3-4, Gardner at 2-4 along with Daryl Shane of Listowel and Mark Kean of Ajax Annandale is 2-5 along with Woodstock's Wayne Tuck.
Even with five losses, Kean and Tuck aren't mathematically eliminated yet. Given all the permutations with four draws still to come, there's probably one where 5-5 would be good enough for a tiebreaker. That means one will have to win out -- they meet in the penultimate draw Friday afternoon -- and get an awful lot of help.
In the other seventh-round games, Cochrane got three in the first, third and fourth to beat Kean 9-1; Higgs stole singles in the second and third and cracked a three in the ninth to beat Shane 11-4; and Deruelle scored four in the sixth to break a 3-3 tie and went on to beat Tuck 10-5.
In the sixth draw, Howard needed only four ends for the second straight game as he beat Gardner 5-0, with Gardner shaking hands with the fifth end not even over.
"I was a little surprised," Howard admitted. "I mean, he blanks that end then takes two, holds us to one and takes another two and he's only down two after eight. But I could see he didn't feel like he had his mojo going and if he wants to shake hands, I'm not going to say no."
Corner, meanwhile, scored one in the 10th without needing his last shot to beat Higgs 6-5, Deruelle scored two in the 10th to beat Kean 8-6, Cochrane stole one in the 10th for a 7-5 win over Balsdon and Anderson shaded Tuck 8-6.
In the fifth draw, Howard stole three in the first and scored four in the fourth to beat Tuck 7-1, Shane scored three in the sixth and added a vital steal of one in the seventh in a 6-4 win over Corner, Balsdon scored three in the ninth to put away Deruelle 9-4, Gardner scored threes in the first and seventh to beat Higgs 9-6 and Kean defeated Anderson 7-4.
"We didn't play our best in that game; we really couldn't put anything together. Plus give all the credit in the world to them; Daryl made three or four great shots," said Corner, who said having the night draw off Tuesday wasn't a factor in his morning loss. "We felt we struggled a bit in our third game, even though we won, so we felt the night off was a blessing in disguise. We needed that rest, but unfortunately this morning we came out and continued with the same flavour."