Fate shines on Howard's end
By GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency
|Ontario skip Glenn Howard, Wayne Middaugh (2nd right), Brent Liang (2nd left) and Craig Saville (left) hold the Brier Trophy after winning the gold medal game against Alberta at the Canadian men's curling championships in Saskatoon on Sunday. (REUTERS)
The “Team Howard Rockumentary” made its national debut on TSN during Brier week. The long-awaited documentary had seen cameras follow Glenn Howard and mates across the curling world in 2010-11, and post-production took additional time through last summer and fall.
There is little doubt the retirement of third Richard Hart threw the “rock doc” into turmoil, just as it did to the team. In the final print, the explanations and reactions are bracketed by footage from too many lost championship finals: the 2009 Olympic Trials, the 2010 Brier, the 2011 Brier.
No matter that every statistical number favoured the new Team Howard heading into last Sunday’s 2012 Brier finale. This one was all about fate, and fate — for once — was squarely on Glenn Howard’s side. His Ontario crew had moved from wobbly to wonderful and were basking in a form of cruise control heading into the playoffs. In their climactic weekend matches, they overwhelmed Manitoba’s Rob Fowler in the first playoff game and then manhandled Alberta’s Kevin Koe in the final.
For once (okay, twice — since 2007) the notorious Howard consistency didn’t stop in a championship final. In fact, that consistency became a ruthless efficiency where each tiny mistake made by their unfortunate opposition quickly grew into epic disaster.
Since the fall of 2006, Team Howard’s win/loss record after scoring a deuce in the first end of play, as happened in Saskatoon on Sunday night, is now 96-8.
Yes, one of those eight losses came in the 2010 Brier final. To Koe. After Koe made an incredible shot to save his bacon in the 10th end, and drew to the button in the extra.
That’s why there was clear relief on Howard’s face as he raised his arms in victory and looked skyward before continuing down the sheet of ice to embrace his jubilant teammates. So many finals in the last few years had produced so many silver medals — including last December’s Canada Cup final, for the first 2013 Trials berth — but this moment was golden.
Another testament to Howard’s amazing consistency is that for all the talk of silver, this is his fourth career Brier championship: two came as third for his brother Russ, in 1987 and 1993, and two as skip in the past six years. Front-enders Brent Laing and Craig Savill now have two titles each, and third Wayne Middaugh now has three (including ‘93 and 1998), each of them from different positions in the batting order.
Howard has often said, and not without rising frustration in his voice, that it’s all about getting into that final; that position to win. With this latest victory, a well-deserved swagger is back in his step.
BRIER BROOM BITS
Manitoba’s Fowler and Co. showed genuine pleasure at winning bronze, which is always good to see. Jamie Koe of the Territories, who finished fourth, skipped the first-ever polar squad to qualify for the Brier playoffs, and was cheered lustily throughout the round robin and final weekend. It marked a fantastic result for a group of fellows who play just a handful of games each season, in less than ideal conditions ... The Brier flu bug wasn’t nearly as virulent as that of the national women’s championship, but it still made an impact on both finalist
teams. Ontario lead Craig Savill had to take some intravenous fluids in the middle of the week, and Alberta third Pat Simmons battled a throat infection through much of the tournament — a brave performance that saw him visibly struggling during the Saturday playoff matches.
German women’s skip Andrea Schoepp will miss the world championships in Lethbridge, Alta. which begin Saturday and wrap up with the championship games on Mar. 25. Der Kommandant, who has competed in some 44 major championships since 1980, broke her leg over the weekend and had surgery on Monday. The veteran faces two to three months of recuperation before she can start training for the 2012-13 curling season.
Canada’s Heather Nedohin will need a fast start in Lethbridge to give her Edmonton squad some breathing room later in the week. The Canadians open against the United States on Mar. 17 (9:00pm ET, TSN), and then face two powerhouses on Mar. 18, in China’s Bingyu Wang and Switzerland’s Mirjam Ott.
The U.S. entry is led by Allison Pottinger, the Brampton-born third for former world champion skip Debbie McCormick. Pottinger has taken over the skipping reins and knows the game, and gets good support from her teammates. The Chinese are no longer a surprise, having captured world gold in 2009 and Olympic bronze in 2010. The veteran Ott, meanwhile, has built another steady season despite a surprise loss in the Swiss qualifier for the European championships. Nedohin’s final round-robin match comes in the marquee Thursday night slot, against Scottish wunderkid Eve Muirhead.
The World Curling Tour debuted a new event in Grande Prairie, Alta., during the finale of Brier week. Edmonton’s Kevin Martin won the men’s crown with a 6-2 win over China’s Rui Liu while the women’s title went to Calgary’s Shannon Kleibrink, a 5-3 winner over GP stalwart Renee Sonnenberg ... The season-ending Players’ Championship at Summerside, P.E.I., in April has confirmed women’s entries from cash queen Sherry Middaugh of Coldwater, Ont., as well as Scotland’s Eve Muirhead. Eight women’s and men’s teams will be featured at the shootout, which has not announced a broadcast partner.