After spending decades at or near the top of Canadian curling, Glenn Howard is finally going to the Olympics. Just not for Canada. At least not yet.
One of the greatest skips in Canadian history, Howard plans to be in South Korea in February to coach Great Britain's women's team, led by Eve Muirhead. He's still wrapping his head around what that'll be like.
"It's different. It's weird," he says. "I had to sit back and think about it. I talked to my wife, family and friends about putting a different country's name on my back."
It's nearing two years since Howard, from Midland, Ont., started coaching the British rink. Muirhead has appeared in the last two Olympics, missing the podium in Vancouver before capturing bronze in Sochi. Her team is currently ranked fifth in the world.
Thinking her team could benefit from his tactical and strategic expertise, Muirhead asked Howard via an email in the spring of 2016 to consider coaching them.
"They were a great team before I got involved," says Howard, who went through a series of interviews before landing the job. "I'm just one part of the puzzle. I think I've helped."
Muirhead calls Howard "a fantastic asset" for her team.
"Ever since I started curling he was an idol of mine," the 27-year-old Scot says. "His attitude to the game along with unbelievable natural ability makes him one of the great guys in curling.
"To have him on my side gives me huge confidence going forward into the Olympics, knowing I'm listening to and learning from the best."
Howard has picked up a few things too.
"I see the game differently. I have a new respect for the game," he says. "I find the game clearer as a coach than as a player. It almost seems obvious to make a strategic move this way or that way."
One last kick
Howard is hoping the fresh perspective pays off this week in Summerside, P.E.I., where he's competing at the Canadian Olympic pre-trials tournament. Two men's spots are up for grabs for the Canadian trials at the beginning of December in Ottawa, where Canada's representatives for the 2018 Winter Games will be decided.
At 55 years old, Howard is making his final attempt at representing Canada at the Olympics. He'll have to do it without his longtime friend and teammate, Richard Hart, whose balky knees forced him to pull out just before the tournament.
The news was clearly disappointing for Howard.
"Rich and I have been through the war together," he said. "We've had so many successes and ups and downs. We were hoping this would be our swan song. I'm definitely not going another Olympic cycle. Rich isn't either. This was going to be our last kick at it."
Howard has played more times at the Brier than anyone in history — 218 games over 17 appearances at Canada's national men's curling championship. He has won the title on four occasions — the last two as a skip — and went on to win the world championship each time.
But a trip to the Olympics has eluded Howard. He's played in the trials before — once as a third with his older brother, Russ Howard, and three other times as a skip. At the 2009 trials, Howard made it all the way to the final in Edmonton before losing to the hometown favourite, Kevin Martin.
There isn't much Howard hasn't seen or done in the game. He's as calm and collected as a skip could be this week in P.E.I.
"If you get on a roll, that's all it takes," he says. "There's no question in my mind we could win it, and that's why we're going to play."
With Hart out, Howard has called upon "super spare" Adam Spencer to throw third rocks. The second position will be filled by David Mathers. Howard's son Scott will throw lead stones.
If Howard survives the pre-trials, he'll still have to beat a long list of Canada's top curlers, who have already qualified for the trials, to earn a spot in Pyeongchang. But Howard's enthusiasm is bolstered by the fact Brad Jacobs came out of the pre-trials last time around and went on to win gold for Canada at the Sochi Olympics.
"A lot of people have said these teams aren't going to win coming out of the pre-trials because they're not good enough," Howard says. "You get on a roll against the best of the rest, it gives you confidence."
As much as Howard is excited about helping Muirhead's team reach its goal of an Olympic medal, he wants to win one with his own team more than anything. Should he make one last magical run, he'll be in a bit of a dilemma — it's probably not possible to pull double duty. Muirhead says they "will cross that bridge when it happens."
Howard isn't thinking that far ahead either.
"There isn't a plan," he admits. "I couldn't coach. Maybe I could flip over for a game or two. Who knows?"