STRATFORD, ONT. - It's a magnificent seven for Glenn Howard.
The Coldwater skip extended his record Ontario men's curling championship streak to seven Sunday afternoon when he beat former teammate and good friend Peter Corner of Brampton 5-4 in the final of the Dominion Tankard.
But it almost fell apart on what appeared to be a routine final shot.
Corner had put his last shot on the button to lie two, but that was a shade too deep. It left Howard an open tap for the win, but his shooter only just stopped rolling in time.
"We got 'er done. Wow. This never gets old," said a very relieved Howard. "He (Corner) throws that top four and I'm almost certainly having to draw the lid and I had it in my mind all end that that was what I was going to have to do. I didn't take much ice, but halfway down it was still hanging out there. It just kept hanging and hanging and I thought 'Oh, no.'
"That was a fantastic game, but I feel bad for Peter, We've got him in a few finals now and he's a very good friend. You hate beating buddies, but at the same time, you're out there to win."
Howard, Wayne Middaugh, Brent Laing and Craig Savill now head to the Tim Hortons Brier in Saskatoon next month. It's Howard's 14th national appearance and the eighth for the other three, with Laing and Savill with Howard for all of the last seven.
For Middaugh, though, it's his first trip since he was the last Ontario skip to win the crown other than Howard. That was back in 2005.
"And the next two years we lost the final to them, so if you can't beat them, might as well join them," said Middaugh, who took over from the retired Richard Hart. "And with a team like this, how can you not be ecstatic? The guys were really good on me; I've never played with three guys who are so easy to play with. They made it easy for a new guy to come into an established team, one that's won everything under the sun, to play third and fill some pretty big shoes."
After Howard took a 4-2 lead after five ends with deuces in the first and fifth, Corner got a vital steal of one in the seventh when Howard's final shot, a tricky runback, picked. And as Howard's final stone in the 10th travelled down the ice, Corner thought his 12-year wait for another Ontario title was over.
"At the hog line, he was rolling out and I was yelling for fun. But his weight was soft enough that it just walked over right at the end. I really thought something good was going to happen, that the gods of curling were going to be with me today, because they weren't last night," Corner said of the 7-6 loss to Howard in the Page 1-2 game that saw Howard steal one in 10 and 11. "But at the end of the day, you want to make him make his last shot to go to the Brier, and he almost missed it."
In the semifinal, Corner rebounded from his heartbreaker the night before to beat Mike Anderson of Thornhill 8-5. Anderson stole two in the first, but Corner then scored three in the second and stole two in the third to take control when a couple of slightly heavy draws gave him a pocket on the button in which to cement two counters.
Anderson, like Dayna Deruelle of Brampton, the fellow rookie skip he beat 7-3 in the 3-4 playoff game Saturday night, established himself as one of the young guns to keep an eye on with his performance here this week.
"That we can beat these guys," the 27-year-old said when asked what he's taking out of this Tankard. "My guys played great all week and there were only two shots I'd like to have back. Unfortuntely, they both came in that third end. There was just that one spot that was four, five feet faster and unfortunately it took us two rocks to figure that out.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous out there, but it was so much fun playing on that ice in front of a crowd. And I'm still young; I've still got a long way to go."
Deruelle advanced to the 3-4 game by edging Wayne Tuck of Woodstock 6-5 in the second tiebreaker Saturday afternoon. Tuck came into the game on a bit of a roll, having won his final three round-robin games to make the tiebreakers along with Deruelle and Bryan Cochrane of Ottawa Rideau with 5-5 records, then ousting Cochrane 9-4 in the first tiebreaker Saturday morning.
Deruelle appeared to take control with a three in the eighth for a 5-3 lead, but Tuck tied it with two in the ninth. However, Tuck's last-rock freeze attempt in the 10th picked and Deruelle didn't need his last shot.
Tuck saved his squad's bacon several times in the early going as third Craig Kochan and second Scott McDonald, in particular, struggled.
"I don't think so," Tuck, a Strathroy resident, said when asked if mental or physical fatigue played a factor. "If we play a little better -- at every position -- we pull this one out. Yeah, I bailed the guys out a couple of times early, but as a skip, you have to be able to do that."