LONDON, Ont. – Glenn Howard was, to put it mildly, frosted.
On a day when humidity within the John Labatt Centre created frosty ice conditions, the Ontario skip was light on a draw to the inside eight-foot with his final stone, allowing James Grattan of New Brunswick to steal two for a 5-4 upset win in the first draw of the Tim Hortons Brier Saturday afternoon.
“Obviously I laid it down too light,” Howard said. “I wasn’t real confident with the shot. The ice was a bit frosty, but it didn’t affect things too badly. The conditions were still pretty good.
“I thought we controlled the game and outplayed them, but it doesn’t matter. I missed my last shot.”
Howard scored the game’s first deuce in the eighth for a 4-2 lead before Grattan tried a tricky split for two in the ninth but only scored one, leaving Howard one up coming home with the hammer.
“I didn’t mind taking one there,” Grattan said of his gamble. “If we’re tied (in the 10th), we’ve still got to steal to win and if we’re one down we still have to steal to at least get an extra end.
“But I felt we had a chance. It’s early in the week and everyone’s still trying to get a feel for the conditions and the more difficult it got, the more I thought it favoured us. And it might have looked like a simple draw for Glenn, but that eight-foot looked more like the button today with all that frost. It was a lot tougher than it looked.”
Grattan has a tough opening schedule – he’ll play Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton Saturday night and Alberta’s Kevin Martin Sunday morning, “so if we get out of that in good shape, it will look pretty good,” he said.
Two of the other big names breezed to opening wins as Brad Gushue of Newfoundland/Labrador scored five in the third and stole six more over the next four ends to thrash Eddie MacKenzie of P.E.I. 12-1 and Stoughton scored three in the fourth and added a four in the sixth en route to a 10-4 win over B.C.’s Jim Cotter.
“It was a nice start,” Gushue said. “You try to get as much of a feel as possible in the first game and take it into tomorrow. It’s always fun to win, but we were in kind of a tough situation there – we didn’t want to just go up and down the ice, but at the same time we didn’t want to look like we were just trying to pad our lead. It was a tough balancing act.”
Although Cotter is making his Brier debut as a skip, Stoughton was wary of the West Coasters.
“The guys played great. And we knew we had to get off to a good start and be aggressive right off the bat. We knew they were one of the top teams here,” the 1996 and 1999 Brier champ said. “So to get rid of them early is good, because they’re only going to get better.”
In the other first-draw game, Steve Laycock of Saskatchewan stole singles in the sixth and seventh ends en route to a 6-4 win over Jamie Koe of the Territories.
“We knew Jamie has always given us a tough game in the past and we didn’t expect anything different this time,” Laycock said. “We didn’t feel too confident on a lot of our shots early. It wa a struggle to figure out where to put the broom.
“Any team you play in your first game you want to beat, but it wasn’t so much a thought of losing as it was not being comfortable with the ice.”
Martin, Francois Gagne of Quebec, Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario and Shawn Adams of Nova Scotia had the first draw off.