Stoughton clinches playoff spot

STEVE GREEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:16 PM ET

LONDON, Ont. – It may have not been the thriller worthy of such a milestone, but it’s a number Glenn Howard is pretty proud to have.

The veteran Ontario skip out of the Coldwater and District Curling Club won his 125th career game at the Canadian men’s curling championship Wednesday, an 11-1 drubbing of Eddie MacKenzie of P.E.I. in the afternoon’s 13th draw at the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier at the John Labatt Centre.

It also left Howard at 7-2, tied for second with Brad Gushue of Newfoundland/Labrador and Kevin Martin of Alberta. Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba leads at 8-1 and has clinched at least a spot in the 3-4 playoff game after beating Martin 5-1 in the 14th draw Wednesday night. The key end was the third, when Martin flashed a pickout double attempt and gave Stoughton a steal of two. Stoughton was lying two buried in the eighth when Martin conceded the game.

“And it’s not even Thursday. Thank goodness,” Stoughton said of clinching the playoff spot, in large part due to the play of third Jon Mead. “Jon was fantastic. Everything they threw at us, he threw something back. Then we got on the right side of the inch on our steal in the third.

“It’s just nice to know if we win out, we’re in the 1-2 game and that’s all you can ask for.”

Howard, meanwhile, knew his win total was up there when the Brier started, but was still a bit surprised to hear he’s reached 125 – the most by any player in Brier history. It was his 62nd win as a skip, the others coming as third for his brother Russ (who leads all skips with 113 career wins).

“That’s unbelievable,” Howard said when reminded of his win total. “Are you kidding me? I can’t believe I’m leading in that statistic, but I’m pretty proud to have it. That’s a lot of wins over 13 Briers.”

Howard rebounded from a 5-4 extra-end loss to Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario in the morning to take it to the Islanders right off the bat, stealing threes in the first and second ends and three more in the fifth, by which time MacKenzie had had enough. They shook hands – Howard was just coming back from the bathroom during the fifth-end break at the time – and that earned MacKenzie a $500 fine from the Canadian Curling Association for failing to play the minimum seven ends.

In their morning game, Jacobs scored a pair in the eighth to counter a Howard deuce in the previous end, forced Ontario to take one in the 10th and then made an open hit in the extra end for the win. They then pounded MacKenzie 9-2 in the night draw to improve to 5-4 and remain the only other team mathematically alive for a playoff spot heading into Thursday’s final three round-robin draws.

Jacobs needs to beat James Grattan of New Brunswick and Steve Laycock of Saskatchewan Thursday and hope one of Martin, Howard or Gushue lose twice to force a tiebreaker.

“Tell me about it,” Jacobs said when it was said he needed the win over Howard. “It felt good to finally put a solid performance together. We played the scoreboard well and that two in eight was huge, definitely the best end we’ve put together all week.”

Ontario had won 16 of the previous 17 meetings at the Brier.

“We’ve kinda been dominated, so it was nice to get one back for Northern Ontario,” Jacobs said.

Howard had no complaints.

“Brad’s boys played terrific and I thought we played well, too. They just didn’t make any mistakes – and they got two great chip shots from Scott (lead Seabrook, who took two Ontario guards out of useful play without removing them outright) in the 11th end and that basically won the game for them.”

Gushue won twice Wednesday – beating Shawn Adams of Nova Scotia 9-3 in the morning and Grattan 6-5 in the afternoon, to all but wrap up a playoff spot.

“It’s a good position to be in; we still have a chance to get to the 1-2 game,” said Gushue, who faces Stoughton Thursday morning and is relishing the timing. “We usually don’t like mornings off, because then you’re just sitting around watching TV and eating only one meal and getting a little sluggish. At least when you play in the morning, you get into a routine right away.”

Stoughton edged Laycock 7-6 in an extra end in the afternoon to drop Saskatchewan to 4-5 and out of playoff contention. Also out are Adams, Grattan, Jamie Koe of the Territories, Jim Cotter of B.C. and Francois Gagne of Quebec, all at 3-6, and MacKenzie at 1-8.


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