Howard, Koe, Gushue among Brier qualifiers
Ontario's Glenn Howard is heading back to the Canadian men's curling championship.
The Coldwater skip nudged out Peter Corner's stone in the tenth end Sunday to win the Dominion Tankard Ontario men's curling championship 5-4 to book his place in the Brier.
The 12-team field for the March 3-11 men's tournament in Saskatoon filled up as the remaining provinces and the territories determined their champions.
Joining Howard is Calgary's Kevin Koe, another former Canadian and world champion. Koe will represent Alberta again after winning the nation and world titles in 2010.
Koe defeated Brock Virtue 6-3 in the Alberta final Sunday. Brock had eliminated 2010 Olympic champion Kevin Martin 8-7 in the semifinal.
Also headlining the Brier field will be Brad Gushue, the 2006 Olympic champion who won the Newfoundland and Labrador championship Sunday.
Brad Jacobs of Northern Ontario, Manitoba's Rob Fowler and Nova Scotia's Jamie Murphy all won their respective provincial finals Sunday. Jamie Koe, Kevin's brother, will represent the Territories.
They join New Brunswick's Terry Odishaw, Saskatchewan's Scott Manners, Mike Gaudet of Prince Edward Island and Robert Desjardins of Quebec who qualified in earlier playdowns.
Fowler, from Brandon, Man., defeated Mike McEwen 10-6 to win his first Manitoba men's title.
Fowler had eliminated Jeff Stoughton, last year's Canadian and world champion, 8-7 in a playoff game Saturday.
Jacobs defeated Mike Jakubo 9-2 to win the Northern Ontario championship, Gushue beat Ken Peddigrew 9-3 in Newfoundland and Murphy downed former Canadian champion Mark Dacey 7-5 in Nova Scotia.
Jamie Koe, from Yellowknife, went a perfect 5-0 in Whitehorse for the right to represent both Yukon and Northwest Territories.
Kelowna skip John Cotter won the B.C. men's title by stealing a point in the 10th end to beat Brent Pierce 7-5.
The Brier winner represents Canada at the men's world championship March 31 to April 8 in Basel, Switzerland.
Howard, meanwhile, won the Dominion Tankard Ontario men's curling championship in dramatic fashion.
The final shot looked like it would spin past but Howard was able to stick it to set off a celebration with teammates Wayne Middaugh, Brent Laing and Craig Savill.
Shaking his head
"It just kind of came on in the end and if it rolls two inches more, Pete [wins]," said Howard, who will represent Ontario at the Brier. "The good news is it didn't. It held off and it worked out."
Corner was still shaking his head long after the game was over.
"My rock was almost in a perfect spot," said the skip from Brampton, Ont. "I wanted to make him make a tricky, little delicate shot to win the game and honestly, at the hog line, I'd thought he'd missed it. There was a lot of room to roll there and did it ever carve up."
Corner yelled for third Graeme McCarrel to get on the rock but he couldn't sweep it out.
"I was yelling just to make it look good because I thought it was going to roll away," Corner said. "When it hit I couldn't believe how soft it stopped. Even Graeme's in disbelief right now."
Howard, who plays out of the Coldwater & District Curling Club, had control of the game until the seventh end. He grabbed a 4-2 lead with two points in the fifth and forced Corner into taking one in the sixth so he could have the hammer down the stretch.
Corner stole one in the seventh, but Howard came back to blank the eighth and ninth end, setting up the winning shot.
"It was a fantastic game. I feel bad for Pete, because we've got him in a couple finals now and he's a good friend of mine," Howard added. "You hate to beat buddies but the bottom line is you're out there to win."
Corner gave Howard all he could handle in the final and in the Page 1 playoff, when Howard needed an extra end on Friday to beat him 7-6. Prior to those games, Howard had only played to the 10th end twice in 10 round robin games.
"He was crushing everybody all week long and the two games that we played him I thought we could have beat him both times. It's a testament to our guys stepping up," said Corner, who beat the Mike Anderson of Thornhill, Ont., 8-5 in the Sunday morning semifinal.
"I had really good karma going this game. I thought it was ours to win. I just had a really good feeling that the gods of curling were going to show up on my team. We played exactly the way we wanted to play and that's how it goes sometimes."
For Corner, it would have been his first Brier since 2000.
"The last 12 years I've lost the [Ontario] final six times. I haven't been to the Brier in 12 years so it hurts, because I don't have many more of these left in me. That one stings," Corner said. "Tomorrow I'll wake up with my family and go to work and it'll be over and done. It's not life or death for me as it is for those guys."
It may not be life or death for Middaugh, but it has been seven years since he went to the Brier, the last time in 2005 as skip. Middaugh joined the Howard rink at the start of the season, taking over for third Richard Hart.
"He's a kid in a candy store right now," Howard said. "I knew when he joined our team, you just light a fire under Wayne Middaugh's butt and look out. He's played so well and fit in so well with our team. The adjustment has been seamless."
Middaugh joked that Howard was just being kind.
"I worked hard to try and be ready and fill those shoes, because they're huge," he said. "They were a great team long before I came along, but Brent and Craig have been so easy to play with."