Howard still Brier favourite

Ontario skip Glenn Howard (centre) jokes with teammates Wayne Middaugh (left) and Brent Laing...

Ontario skip Glenn Howard (centre) jokes with teammates Wayne Middaugh (left) and Brent Laing during their match against Saskatchewan at the Brier in Saskatoon, Sask., March 6, 2012. (ANDY CLARK/Reuters)

GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:09 PM ET

TORONTO - Howard or Koe. Koe or Howard. Who do you like for the 2012 Brier title?

The Alberta (Kevin Koe) and Ontario (Glenn Howard) teams were the co-favourites heading into Saskatoon, and it’s Koe’s Calgary outfit that looks leaner and meaner thus far. With a 6-0 record heading into Tuesday afternoon’s draw, the squad was leading in virtually all statistical categories, including points scored per game (9.80) and points against per game, an amazingly low 3.40.

Meanwhile, the Ontarians had a 4-1 record heading into Tuesday afternoon, they should have lost a game to struggling Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador, and were trailing their Alberta rivals in points for and against (both at 6.11). It wasn’t always this way. Through the bulk of the curling season, Howard’s outfit lead the Koes in both statistics and won/loss record: 63-14 versus 48-25. The Albertans really started jelling with their January win at the Skins Game, and their performance at the Alberta provincial was a study in perfection. They’ve continued that trend in Saskatoon, as their Thursday night, prime-time, round-robin-concluding battle with the Ontarians looms large.

One fellow who lives and breathes curling stats is Gerry Geurts, co-founder of the CurlingZone.com portal and co-inventor of curling’s new numbers system, dubbed CurlStat. This math engine tracks things like Hammer and Steal Efficiencies — and there’s even a sweeping efficiency logarithm.

Geurts is most impressed with Alberta’s ability to steal points, which is ironic, for Geurts calls Steal Efficiency the least important indicator for success ... in terms of numbers.

“In curling, stealing involves a luck factor, and statistics don’t like things as intangible as luck,” Geurts explains. “Many steals occur when the other team has missed their last shot and while sometimes skill is

involved, a lot of this can’t be predicted. In baseball, we can look at Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) as a stat to tell you how lucky a player is, and we’re working on a way to predict the same for stealing.

“We know an elite curling team steals on average about 25% of the time — any higher or lower means they’re either getting somewhat lucky or unlucky.”

Koe’s gang of thieves had, as of lunchtime on Tuesday, racked up a whopping 47% in Steal Efficiency. However, the statman himself is picking Ontario to win the whole thing (he correctly picked Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton a year ago).

And the career head-to-head record would support that: Since Koe started skipping in 2006, Howard has beaten him 16 times against only four losses.

However, these two titans locked horns in the 2010 Brier final and Alberta drew the button for the win, sending Ontario home with another silver medal.

Howard or Koe. Koe or Howard. Who do you like? Watch the final Brier round robin battle Thursday at 7:30pm ET (TSN) and then settle in for a weekend of playoff action. The championship final goes Sunday night, Mar. 11.

HOWARD vs. KOE

THIS SEASON:

Canada Cup — Howard 7, Koe 5

Sun Life Classic — Howard 4, Koe 2

Cactus Pheasant Classic (Playoffs) — Koe 6, Howard 2

Cactus Pheasant Classic (Round Robin) — Howard 6, Koe 4

Canad Inns Prairie Classic – Howard 6, Koe 4

Canadian Open — Howard 7, Koe 3

CAREER HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Howard — 16 wins

Koe — 4 wins

WHAT ABOUT US?

With four total playoff spots up for grabs, there will be other teams in the mix and looking to upset the AB vs ON applecart. The British Columbia foursome skipped by Kelowna’s Jim Cotter is back for the second

straight Brier, and looked to be rebounding after a 0-2 start. Brier rookie skip Rob Fowler of Manitoba has looked comfortable, as has Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs. Surprisingly comfortable are the skips from Nova Scotia (Jamie Murphy) and the Territories (Jamie Koe, Kevin’s kid brother). The younger Koe sat at 4-1 heading into Tuesday afternoon play, having already upset Howard, and a playoff appearance by his Yellowknife squad would be a welcome surprise.

TWO SPIELS IN ONE

A Territories playoff appearance would also dash the hopes of any curling fan who would like to recruit Jamie Koe to play in a recreational bonspiel. During the Brier, that is.

Don’t laugh. It happened during last year’s Brier in London.

Knocked out of play after the Thursday night, Koe — one of the most friendly and approachable curling stars — made some new friends in the Patch, aka the Brier party palace. Koe was asked, perhaps jokingly, if he would play in a local curling bonspiel that weekend before heading home. Koe dutifully said yes, and was picked up and escorted to a classic weekend recreational funspiel, in which he competed with his new teammates in his official Territories uniform.

Koe helped his second team of the week win the event, of course, thus ending his Ontario Brier experience on a high note.

CHECK YOUR HAT

Our Feb. 7 column on Team Saskatchewan, skipped by Scott (Mind Your) Manners, featured a photo of the team clutching the Saskatchewan Tankard trophy. In the image, third Tyler Lang was proudly sporting a Toronto Blue Jays baseball cap.

That very photo was spotted by Jays’ president and CEO Paul Beeston, who promptly spoke to his vice president of special operations, Howard Starkman.

“We read the Sun,” Starkman confirmed. “I’m a big curling fan, and so is Paul. My wife curls and I watch a bit (on TV), quite a bit actually, probably more than I should.”

Starkman contacted the Saskatchewan Curling Association, obtained Lang’s contact information, and a shipment of Blue Jays swag — featuring the new club logo — was soon on its way.

While competing in Saskatoon, however, Lang must wear a green cap with a simple “SASK” printed on it, to adhere to Brier rules.

“It’s great the Sun is giving good coverage to this sport,” said Starkman. “(Curling) is just like baseball, you want to know what’s going on and you’re always looking for information.”

Email: gk@thecurlingnews.com

Web: curlinguru.com


Videos

Photos