SASKATOON - Outplayed. Outclassed. Outeverythinged.
But not yet out of it.
Rob Fowler received a rude welcome to his first Brier playoffs as a skip here Friday night, getting blown out by Glenn Howard's Ontario rink. But because it was the 1-2 game of the Page playoff system, Fowler's Manitoba team will return to play another day.
Howard, on the other hand, is going straight to the final.
“We're going to win this thing!” the Ontario skip promised.
With a 9-3 win in a laugher of a game that drove the fans to the Brier Patch after three ends, Howard will play in the Brier final for the sixth time in the last seven years.
He's one for five at winning it since 2006, mind you.
But you can't win it unless you get there.
“At least we're not playing in the bronze medal game,” he laughed.
“Hey, we played super. I love the way we're playing now.
“I just wish we could go right back out there and play the final now instead of waiting 48 hours,” he said of advancing to the Sunday evening finale.
“When you get on a roll like this, you want to be out there,” said Howard, whose team had to struggle through a record five extra end games at this year's event, including four in a row.
Howard was in a similar mood the night before.
“It's the quickest way to get to the final,” Howard observed Thursday evening after defeating Alberta's Kevin Koe to make the match with Fowler in the 1-2 game.
By finishing first with a 10-1 record in the round robin, Howard earned choice of rocks and the hammer the rest of the way.
“When we get the hammer we always feel a comfort zone,” said Howard. You have a little bit of an advantage to start the game. It gives you the feeling that you're in control.”
Howard grabbed the game by the throat in the first end when he slithered past a guard to chip one out and score two.
After blanking the second end, the Ontario skip surrounded the button with four Ontario stones and Fowler could only manage to get rid of two of them.
Three ends in and it was “Mop-up in aisle C.”
Fowler was forced to take one in the fourth and Howard put together another grouping of three for Fowler to deal with in the fifth end. He managed to get rid of two of them, but Howard drew for two more.
It was 7-1 at the fifth end break.
Howard made it 9-2 after seven.
At that point he was outshooting Fowler 91% to 69%.
While teams are allowed to shake hands after seven ends during the round robin, the rules change when they get to playoff play. Because they're the only game on the ice in front of more than 10,000 fans with a three hour TV hole booked, the teams are not allowed to rip the Velcro until they've run out of rocks.
In this case, however, with the score 9-3, both teams were allowed to shake hands after the eighth end.
“We weren't sharp,” Manitoba third Allan Lyburn understated of his team being outshot 94% to 83% on the night.
“We've just put ourselves back in the position where we have to win again,” he said of the Manitoba squad that won their final four games of the round robin when they were on the ropes to make the playoffs.
In five of the last six years, the 1-2 game has featured one-point wins with the other being a two-pointer with a deuce being scored on the final end.
The two biggest blowouts before that were Randy Ferbey's 8-2 win over his old skip Pat Ryan in 2003 and Wayne Middaugh's 10-4 win over Guy Hemmings in 1998.
For the eighth time since the Brier went to the Page playoff system in 1995, Ontario has made it to the final. So far they've only managed to win twice.
Only Alberta with 10 (and an 8-2 record) has been to more. Manitoba has been to seven finals in that span and won four.
Saturday at the Brier features the 3-4 Page playoff game at 2:30 p.m. ET with the winner advancing to the semifinal against Manitoba at 8 p.m.
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