Ontario's Howard captures 2012 Brier title
Glenn Howard didn't let the Brier Tankard slip through his fingers this time.
Often a finalist at the Canadian men's curling championship, Howard was building a reputation for losing championship games. He put that behind him as he led Ontario to a 7-6 win over Alberta's Kevin Koe in the final of the Tim Hortons Brier on Sunday.
Howard, third Wayne Middaugh, second Brent Laing and Craig Savill will represent Canada at the world men's championship March 31 to April 8 in Basel, Switzerland.
It was the sixth Brier final in seven years for Howard and his front end of Laing and Savill, but just their second victory. They won the Canadian title in 2007.
Howard howled for joy when he met with reporters after his victory.
"Little bit of a monkey off our back, I think." Howard said. "The guys made everything and thank god. They brought it tonight."
Howard, 49, also won two Briers playing third for brother Russ in 1987 and 1993. They reached the Canadian final five times.
"I just can't believe I've won the Brier four times," said the beer store owner from Tiny, Ont. "I'm pretty proud to be on some of the greatest teams that ever walked the earth as far as I'm concerned.
"I surround myself with some of the best curlers and it feels great to win another one."
Middaugh, who skipped Ontario to Canadian and world titles in 1998, joined the Coldwater Curling Club team at third prior to this season after Richard Hart retired. Middaugh earned the Hec Gervais award that goes to the most valuable player in the playoffs.
Howard, Alberta's Kevin Martin and Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton are Canada's heavyweights in men's curling. The odds are one of those three will represent Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
But four losses in five Brier finals from 2006 to 2011, plus falling to Martin in the final of the 2009 Olympic trials, raised questions about Howard's ability to finish the job.
He dispelled the doubts in Saskatoon. Ontario played five extra-end games in the round robin and Savill was ill with a stomach ailment, yet they topped the preliminary round at 10-1. Howard then dominated Manitoba's Rob Fowler 9-3 in the playoff game between the top two seeds.
Ontario completely controlled the first seven ends of the final, making no errors and pouncing on Alberta mistakes to lead 4-2 after five ends and 6-2 after six.
Alberta had Howard under pressure in the eighth, but the Ontario skip drew for a piece of the button and the point to stay up 7-3.
Koe scored his first deuce of the game in the ninth, but Howard was still up two coming home with the hammer.
Alberta set up to score two and force the extra end. Howard hit and rolled out, but could afford to give up a steal of one and still win.
When Koe had hammer, he drew against three or more Ontario stones for single points in the second, fifth and seven ends.
Ontario also communicated sweeping calls more precisely than Alberta. Koe sounded tense demanding feedback from his teammates.
"It was a struggle," Koe said. "They played great and we were off a little early. You just can't make mistakes like that against those guys.
"We just couldn't get the rocks in the right place [during] the first half of the game while we were still in it. All our points were draws against a bundle. They played awesome."
Middaugh's shooting accuracy was graded 98 per cent and Howard's was 95. Alberta third Pat Simmons was rated at 78 per cent and Koe at 81 at the halfway mark.
Simmons was ill for the entire tournament with a throat infection that worsened as Alberta entered the playoffs.
Howard's record in finals at the world championships is more impressive. In three trips — two with brother Russ — he's won all three.
"I don't know if you know, but we're 34-1 in our last 35 games," Howard said. "Bit of a run, so I hope we can bring that into Basel."
Howard's team is now eligible for $144,000 of Sport Canada funding over a two-year period as well as $40,000 from Own the Podium for training and competition expenses. They also earn $10,000 for wearing the Tim Hortons crest at the world championships.
There's also an automatic berth in the 2012 Canada Cup, at which an Olympic trials berth will be awarded to the winner.
The Brier champion is also named to the North American team in the 2013 Continental Cup of Curling, a competition against European and Asian teams.
Ontario and Alberta get $40,000 in prize money as finalists. Manitoba receives $30,000 for the bronze medal and Jamie Koe of Yukon and Northwest Territories earns $20,000 for fourth.
Howard's win also puts him neck and neck with Manitoba's Mike McEwen in the race for an Olympic trials berth. The top team in the Canadian Team Ranking System at the end of this season gets one of the eight available.
Martin is the only team so far to qualify for the Olympic trials by winning the 2011 Canada Cup.
CTRS rankings are determined by points earned at provincial, national and world championships as well as World Curling Tour bonspiels and Grand Slams.
Howard was 36.29 points back of McEwen at the top of the CTRS list heading into the Brier. He picked up 45 points for the Brier victory and can add another 45 for a world championship win.
"The long-term goal is to secure a spot in the Olympic trials," Howard said. "If we were to win the worlds, it would probably put us in the lead."
Another 40 points goes to the winner of the Players Championship in Summerside, P.E.I., from April 17 to 22nd.
Howard played in his 14th Brier, which ties the record set by his brother Russ. Glenn also set a new record for career games played at the Brier with 182.
Ontario and Alberta were the clear pre-tournament favourites heading into this year's Brier and they lived up to their billing. The story of this Brier was Kevin's brother Jamie and his team from Yellowknife.
They were the first Territories team to make the playoffs. Playoff games were added to what had been a round-robin format in 1980.
Koe fell 8-7 in an extra end to Fowler in the bronze-medal game, but fourth was still a significant result for the curling team from Canada's north.
The time, distance and expense of travelling of World Curling Tour events in the south mean Koe's team plays the country's elite teams only at the national championship.
"(We) probably proved we can compete at this level and we can play well and be in contention," Jamie Koe said. "But to compete year and year out, you've got to play these guys and learn how to beat them."
Fowler served notice his Brandon Curling Club team will be one to watch in the future. Fowler, 37, beat Stoughton for the right to skip his province at the Brier for the first time. Fowler felt his team was capable of winning, but said he was proud of bronze.
"We handled ourselves in very classy manner all week and today would be no different," Fowler said. "That game meant something to us."
Total attendance for the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier was 177,226 at Credit Union Centre, ranking it eighth all-time. The 2013 Brier will be held in Edmonton.
The women's world curling championship opens Saturday in Lethbridge, Alta. Heather Nedohin and her Edmonton team will wear the Maple Leaf there.