STRATFORD, ONT. - At most provincial curling finals, teams with six losses are normally nowhere near playoff contention.
Then again, this Ontario men's championship is proving to be anything but normal.
Two draws remain in the Dominion Tankard round robin and yet none of the 11 teams are out of it.
There exists a scenario that, based on certain results Friday, would see an eight-way tie for fourth at 4-6 and three rounds of tiebreakers just to set up the Page playoff matchups.
"You have to be kidding me. You have to be kidding me," an astounded six-time defending champion Glenn Howard said after he and his Coldwater rink improved to a perfect 9-0 with an 8-4 win over Jake Higgs of Harriston. "And good luck to the (Ontario Curling Association) trying to figure that one out."
Howard and his rink of Wayne Middaugh, Brent Laing and Craig Savill have been the one constant here all week as they've easily clinched top spot in the standings and a place in the Page 1-2 game. But it's a good thing they're not getting paid by the end here -- they've only played 61 ends in their nine wins and their last five have needed only 27. He's gone into the 10th end only twice all week.
"Obviously, a win's a win, but I would have liked a couple more to go longer just to see what the ice is doing," Howard said. "Is it changing? Is it flattening out?"
Higgs, who fell to 3-5 along with Greg Balsdon of Elgin Loonie and Mark Kean of Ajax Annadale (who had the later draw off) at least could take solace he took Howard to eight ends Thursday night.
"I wasn't sharp, but then you have to make every shot when you play them," Higgs said. "We came out and gave it an honest try. We just had to grind away and see what happened. You know they have more skill than you, but it's not by as big a margin as people might think."
Wayne Tuck of Woodstock had a rebound day, winning twice to sit at 4-5 after losing all three games Wednesday. In the ninth draw, a vital steal of one in the seventh proved decisive in an 8-7 win over Balsdon.
"Wow. I think my average was about 97% those two games," he said, adding he knew he wasn't out of it despite three losses on Wednesday. "Everyone's was talking about 5-5 making it, that you're allowed five losses. It's not ideal, but we're still alive. At the beginning of the week you think 7-3 is your number (for a playoff spot) and it's OK if you lose one or two. Now, it's do or die and that helps you focus.
"We play better when our backs are against the wall, it seems. That's how we got here, coming through the Challenge Round."
Peter Corner of Brampton joined Howard in the playoffs, improving to 6-2 with an 8-5 win over clubmate Dayna Deruelle, with a three in the seventh end the key blow. Mike Anderson of Thornhill stands third at 5-3 after he dumped Daryl Shane of Listowel 9-6.
Deruelle and Bryan Cochrane of Ottawa Rideau, who stole deuces in the sixth and seventh to beat Chris Gardner of Arnprior 8-1, are at 4-4. Gardner and Shane are at 2-6, yet still have a chance if results go their way Friday.
In the eighth draw Thursday afternoon, Corner gained a little breathing room as he scored threes in the third and seventh and scored a decisive two in the ninth as he held off Anderson 9-7. It was a nice bounceback after getting hammered by Howard 11-1 Wednesday night.
"I pesonally didn't feel comfortable with the ice," said Corner, who saw Anderson steal singles in the fifth and sixth for a 5-4 lead. "It was just a little bit different than the first couple of games and I just didn't pick up on it.
"But we made the shots we had to make and I was able to draw on some experience. They played well, but we got our rocks in the right spots and Graeme (McCarrel, third) had a great game."
In his eighth-round game, Deruelle scored one in the 11th to edge Gardner 10-9.
"The guys are playing incredible," he said. "It took a couple of games to figure out exactly how this ice works ... I just couldn't find where to put the broom. Now things are coming around, even though we're still a bundle of nerves out there."
Elsewhere in the afternoon draw, Howard opened with a deuce and tacked on threes in the third and fifth to beat Shane 8-2,; Tuck stole singles in each of the first three ends, but needed another in the ninth to edge Cochrane 7-6; and Kean scored four in the fifth and eighth to rout Balsdon 11-5.