Scott Howard sits attentively at a desk just inside the boards at the John Labatt Centre, his father's Team Ontario warmup jacket stretched over the back of his chair.
Binoculars, a stopwatch and water bottles at his side, Howard is making his first appearance at the Tim Hortons Brier as the Ontario team alternate. His duties are minimal —Howard looks at notes with coach Scott Taylor, occasionally passes a broom to a teammate and is essentially on standby in case of injury.
His main job is to soak up the atmosphere at the national men's curling championship and be ready to play if needed. And the fact he gets to team up with his father Glenn —the team skip —is a nice bonus.
"I'm 20 years old, it's the biggest curling event, I'm just very excited to be here," Howard said. "Especially playing with my Dad."
It was a tough start for his father in Saturday's opening draw against New Brunswick. The veteran skip needed a draw to the eight-foot ring for the win but his stone was slowed by a thin layer of frost and settled just short.
That gave James Grattan a steal of two and a surprise 5-4 victory.
"That eight-foot out there felt more like the button today in that game," Grattan said. "It was a lot tougher shot than it looked. That's what we tried to force him into with our last shot. The obvious shot is just to sink one around the corner guard but we wanted him to stick to the middle path and get in the sludgy stuff there.
"And I think that's exactly what it did."
Glenn Howard is one of the favourites in a deep field that includes Olympic champion Kevin Martin of Alberta, two-time national champ Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba and Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador.
With heavy rain and mild temperatures outside and a decent crowd on hand inside, humidity was an issue in the afternoon as frosty patches formed on the outside of every sheet.
Even though the conditions were not ideal, the Ontario skip was still frustrated with his miscue.
"We outplayed them and we had control," Howard said. "But it doesn't matter. I missed my last shot and it cost us the game. I don't feel very good about it."
In other early action, Gushue —the 2006 Olympic champion —whipped Prince Edward Island's Eddie MacKenzie 12-1 in seven ends, Stoughton defeated B.C.'s Jim Cotter 10-4 and Saskatchewan's Steve Laycock defeated Jamie Koe of Northwest Territories/Yukon 6-4.
An enthusiastic crowd of 6,392 took in the opening draw, while 5,647 were on hand in the evening.
Gushue, who has made seven previous Brier appearances and is still looking for his first title, said it was good to get a feel for the conditions and pick up a win.
"It was a tough balancing act for us," Gushue said. "To make sure that we weren't just firing bullets down the ice and that we were learning something."
Scott and Glenn weren't the only members of the Howard family in the building Saturday. Scott's cousin, Steven, is a second for New Brunswick and his uncle, Russ, is working as a broadcaster for TSN.
Glenn Howard is thrilled to have his son on board for the first time.
"It's just absolutely unreal for me," Howard said in a recent interview. "It's a dream come true to have my son beside me."
Scott Howard said the Brier wasn't on his radar earlier this season, but it became a possibility when his Ontario rink lost to Saskatchewan at the national junior playdowns a month ago.
"I'd rather be in Scotland (at the world juniors) right now," he said with a smile. "But Dad said I could come along as fifth man for Team Ontario. I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be a great week with a good bunch of guys."
He's staying loose and will be ready if needed.
"I basically keep the players happy," Scott said. "I do all the little things. Fill the water bottles, bring the broom bag. Basically if someone gets hurt, then I go in. Sometimes they throw in the fifth man if there's a huge blowout. So basically I'm there if someone has an injury or is not feeling good."
In evening play, Martin extended his Brier winning streak to 27 victories with a 6-2 victory over Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs.
"It's good to get the first one out of the way," Martin said.
Koe bounced back with an 8-6 win over MacKenzie and Quebec's Francois Gagne opened with a 10-4 victory over Nova Scotia's Shawn Adams. Stoughton picked up his second victory with a 9-4 win over Grattan.
"It wasn't as good as our first game but we'll take the win," Stoughton said.
There are 12 teams competing in the round robin —one rink from each province plus entries from Northern Ontario and the Territories. Four teams will qualify for the Page Playoff next weekend, with the final set for March 13.