WINNIPEG - Ontario’s former world champion Glenn Howard is hoping that adding Wayne Middaugh — another former world champ — at third, will help him win another Brier.
Alberta’s former world champ Kevin Koe is hoping that adding Brier veteran Pat Simmons at vice-skip will help him win his second Brier.
Newfoundland’s 2006 Olympic gold-medallist Brad Gushue is hoping a front-end shakeup will help him win his first.
And Manitoba’s Rob Fowler is just hoping to sneak in under the radar at the Tim Hortons Brier that will be played in Saskatoon, March 3-11. Just like he did in Dauphin.
“It will be like it was in Dauphin (men’s provincials) when all the focus was on two teams (Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen),” Fowler predicted. “But there’s still other teams we’ll have to worry about, and we’re really looking forward to it.
“Obviously, there’s 11 other teams there who have just won their provinces so, we’re going to have to curl good. But I’m confident that, if we play up to our capabilities, we’ll do well.”
Fowler lacks no confidence despite skipping on the main stage for the first time in only his second year back at the helm.
“The minimum number during the round robin is eight wins, which is obviously our first goal,” said Fowler, supported by third Allan Lyburn, second Richard Daneault and lead Derek Samagalski. “But the main goal is to win the event.”
Fowler has been to three previous Briers, all at second for Stoughton — 2007, 2009 and 2010. Before Stoughton, he played second for Kerry Burtnyk — Manitoba’s two best skips of the modern era.
“One of the things that allowed those guys to be great was that they managed to focus on the ice completely and separate the off-ice stuff,” said Fowler, who figures such off-ice distractions like TV and media are the main ones that Lyburn and Samagalski will need to deal with since it will be their first trip to the Canadian men’s championship.
“That’s why playing at the Grand Slams are huge. They are great events with TV and media presence.”
Daneault played second for Burtnyk at the 2008 Brier in Winnipeg.
“I’m getting the jitters again,” he said. “It’s always exciting going back to the Brier … I’m just hoping we have a better outcome (after missing the playoffs in 2008).”
Daneault also has complete faith in Fowler.
“Rob’s brought some experience from playing with both Kerry and Jeff,” he said. “There were some growing pains, but that was to be expected.
“Last year was our first year together and he surprised a lot of people and he probably surprised us. This year was a little tougher but, at the provincials, I think he proved he deserves to be a skip at this level.”
Fowler denied feeling any added pressure as the one needed to make the collar-tightening last shot in games that can be gut-wrenching.
“I’m not nervous yet, just excited,” he said. “I’ve been skipping for a year and a half now, and I’m really looking forward to taking it on.”
Fowler, it should be noted, has skipped against the likes of Howard, Koe, Gushue, Alberta’s Kevin Martin and Stoughton at Grand Slam events, and held his own.
Fowler has added William Lyburn, Allan’s younger brother, at fifth. Allan and William won the Scotland junior championship together before moving to Brandon. Brian Fowler, Rob’s father who won the 1987 Manitoba title, will coach the squad in Saskatoon.
Samagalski, meanwhile, will be living a dream.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” he said. “It’s probably going to be one of the best times of my life.”
BENDER'S PICKS: BRIER AT SASKATOON
Glenn Howard, Ontario (2-1) … Mighty Middaugh the difference
Kevin Koe, Alberta (3-1) … Simmons no slouch
Brad Gushue, Newfoundland (6-1) … Still riding Olympic gold
Rob Fowler, Manitoba (12-1) … The dark Buffalo, er, horse
Brad Jacobs, Northern Ontario (15-1) … Don’t count out
Jim Cotter, B.C. (20-1) … Welcome back
Jamie Koe, Yukon/NWT (30-1) … Great White Northern Hope
Scott Manners, Saskatchewan (40-1) … Hometown fave
Robert Desjardins, Quebec (50-1) … Out of his element
Terry Odishaw, New Brunswick (60-1) … The spoiler
Mike Gaudet, P.E.I. (75-1) … Just can’t see it
Jamie Murphy, Nova Scotia (100-1) … Just happy to be there