Howard faces tough test in Basel

Ontario skip Glenn Howard celebrates their win over Alberta during the gold medal game at the...

Ontario skip Glenn Howard celebrates their win over Alberta during the gold medal game at the Canadian Men's Curling Championship in Saskatoon two weeks ago. Howard's rink is headed to the world's in Basel Switzerland. (REUTERS)

GEORGE KARRYS, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:10 PM ET

Mirjam Ott’s Swiss foursome weren’t the only ones jumping for joy after their world curling championship win over Sweden on Sunday.

The country, fresh off its first world women’s title since 1963, now plays host to the world men’s championship March 31-April 8 in Basel, some two hours northwest of Zurich.

Ott’s foursome delivered a spectacular touch shot — a shott? — to defeat Sweden’s Margaretha Sigfridsson in front of a packed house in Lethbridge, Alta., — and many more eyes watching on television. The final drew 750,000 average-per-minute eyeballs on TSN; a great number given the absence of a Canadian team. Heather Nedohin’s Edmonton foursome had won the bronze medal over Korea earlier in the day, and attracted some 406,000 viewers on TSN 2 — another strong number.

In Basel, Canada’s Glenn Howard is the overwhelming favourite to win his second world title as a skip — and fourth in his career — and if his squad gets on a roll anything close to their rampage of 2007, no one else may come close. Third man Wayne Middaugh is gunning for his third global crown, while front-enders Brent Laing and Craig Savill are chasing their second.

The world field appears as tough as ever, at least on paper. Norway (Thomas Ulsrud) and Sweden (Niklas Edin) are on the podium all the time, and last year’s finalists Scotland are once again represented by Tom Brewster. All three of these teams would love nothing more than to serve the Canadians for dinner — perhaps braised in a white wine sauce — as would the host Swiss, who will be represented by Vancouver 2010 bronze medallist Jan Hauser at skip stone.

Rasmus Stjerne managed to beat his father in the Danish championship, so the Danes will field their strongest team. Ditto for the Czech Republic, and don’t forget that longtime skip Jiri Snitil surprised with a playoff appearance at December’s European championships.

The U.S. entry is captained by Heath McCormick, a dual citizen of both Canada and the States: McCormick was born in Michigan, but lives in Sarnia. Germany is there with Johnny Jahr and New Zealand has made it back, with expatriate Scotsman Peter de Boer now skipping the squad.

Team Canada starts this Saturday against France (8:00 a.m. TSN) and will have one game televised live in Canada daily through April 4. On April 5, the squad’s match against China (1:00 p.m.) will be shown on TSN2. The playoffs are scheduled for April 7 and 8.

SLAM TV CONFIRMED

The Capital One Grand Slam of Curling is back on the telly. Shaw Media has made a deal with Toronto’s iSport Media and Management to broadcast the men’s and women’s finals of the Players’ Championship live from Summerside, P.E.I. in April — on Global TV.

The Players’ starts on April 17 and will dole out some $370,000 to the top 16 teams to wrap up the season. The women’s final airs at noon eastern time on Saturday, April 21 and the men’s final gets underway at noon eastern on the Sunday.

Both finals lead directly into Global’s coverage of the PGA Senior Tour’s Legends of Golf tournament in Savannah, Georgia. This is a good fit — not just with viewer demographics, but with most curling goals at this time of year; namely, to pack up the brush and grab the golf clubs.

A new curling Odd Couple will debut in the broadcast booth for this one:

Vancouver Olympic heroine Cheryl Bernard and former CBC and current NBC warhorse Don Duguid, who quit competitive curling after winning the Brier and world titles in 1970 and ’71. Confirmation of the play-by-play commentator might be out by the end of this week.

OLYMPIC RACE

Just a couple of months ago, Mike McEwen of Winnipeg looked to have the next men’s berth into the 2013 Olympic Trials all but sewn up. The McEwen gang had a big lead on Glenn Howard and other rivals in Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) points scheme.

Nowadays, after wins at a Grand Slam and the Brier, Howard is the one looking good for the Trials spot. He tails the Manitobans by just six points and is licking his chops at the big points available in Basel.

McEwen posted a “Can We Win?” analysis on his team blog (at mcewencurling.com) this week, speculating that if the Ontario team wins the world championship his foursome will need to win the Victoria Curling Classic this weekend in British Columbia and then defeat Howard in the semifinals of the Players’ in Summerside. In this scenario, McEwen just edges Howard at the bell by a total season points tally of 263.86 to 263.52.

Either way, that’s another reason to keep watching the curling scene into next month.

BROOM BITS

Speaking of Victoria, Vancouver Olympic skips Bernard and Kevin Martin will lock horns Wednesday night in a special “Battle of the Sexes” Skins Game before the tourney’s official start on Thursday ... Bernard recently suffered a killer loss in the final of the Alberta Mixed championship. Bernard stole the seventh and ninth ends for a two-point lead over defending champion Kurt Balderston in the final but dropped a big three-ender coming home, to lose 7-6. Ouch...

Saskatchewan’s Darwin Bender captured the 2012 Canadian Wheelchair title with a 7-6 final-game win over Alberta’s Bruno Yizek. Ontario, skipped by Mark Ideson, finished third... Fanshawe College of London, Ont. captured the first national college championships hosted in 20 years.

Resuscitated in Peterborough, Ont., the men’s CCAA finalists hailed from Red Deer College in Alberta while the women’s finalists were Alberta’s Grande Prairie Regional College.


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