Two Olympic champions down. One former world champion to go.
Ontario's Glenn Howard defeated Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador 7-6 on Saturday night to advance to the final of the Tim Hortons Brier in London, Ont. Howard had the hammer in the 10th end and scored one to win it.
"This is what we came for," Howard said at the John Labatt Centre. "We came here to win it and you can't win it until you get in the final."
Next up for Howard is Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton, a two-time national champion who won the world title in 1996. Stoughton beat Gushue in the 1-2 Page Playoff game on Friday night to advance straight to Sunday's final at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Howard's victory over the gold medallist from the 2006 Turin Olympics came just a few hours after he downed Kevin Martin of Alberta — who won gold at the Olympics last year — 5-4 in the 3-4 Page Playoff game. Martin will meet Gushue in the bronze-medal contest Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
"We were really pumped," Howard said. "I'm tired, I'll be honest with you. I'm really mentally tired. That last game against Kevin emotionally took a toll on me. … Again, kudos to my guys. They didn't let it faze them and they hung in there.
"But we rode a bit of a high after that first game."
Howard took the lead with a pair in the third end but Gushue responded with a pair of his own in the fourth. Gushue blew a chance for a double in the sixth end when he was heavy with his final throw. Howard had perfect weight on his last throw of the seventh end for a little tap to score two. Gushue nailed a hit and stick for two in the ninth to tie it, setting up yet another tight finish.
"You've got to make everything, you've got to make all the easy ones for sure against those guys," Gushue said. "To miss that draw on six, I'm pretty upset about it. Make that and it's a different game."
Howard, a three-time national and world champion, scored two in the 10th end of his victory over Martin, who was going for a record fifth Brier win as skip. It was Howard's first win as a skip over Martin in eight career games at the Brier.
"Obviously it's nice to beat Kevin, they're the best team in the world," Howard said. "So we were pretty pumped."
Martin missed an angle raise with his final throw to give Howard the victory.
"It was unfortunate, I hate to lose but that's the way it goes," Martin said.
Alberta third John Morris was frustrated after the loss.
"That's not the team we need to have in order to dominate like we have in the past," Morris said, without getting into specifics. "So we're going to have to work on a couple things."
Bothered by bronze
Martin is not a fan of the bronze medal game, which is making its Brier debut this year.
"I really hope it never happens again, this bronze thing," Martin said. "Other than the Olympics. I said that earlier, you'd crawl across the desert for an Olympic bronze. But please make this thing go away here."
Both teams were steady early on in the 3-4 game, with Howard scoring a pair in the fifth end for a 3-2 lead. That score held up until the eighth end, when Martin drew to the button for a single. Martin stole one in the ninth end when Howard barely touched the Alberta stone with his rock. The pin was barely visible but both rinks agreed the Alberta stone was closer and it was verified by an umpire.
Martin shot 85 per cent in the game while Howard finished at 76 per cent. Howard had just over an hour to get ready for the semifinal against Gushue, who is still looking for his first Brier win.
Manitoba hasn't won a Brier since Stoughton's last victory in 1999. Stoughton won his first Brier in 1996 and went on to take the world title. Howard won his last Brier in 2007.
Manitoba went 9-2 in round-robin play and looked impressive again Friday. Third Jon Mead said his rink is excited to be one win away from a championship.
"You're just sitting there in amazement that you got there, especially against the guys that we've had to play to get there," Mead said. "To be at only two losses against this field after this many games is something."
The Brier winner will represent Canada at the Ford world men's curling championship starting April 2 in Regina. The winner also receives a berth into the 2011 Canada Cup in Cranbrook, B.C., and the 2012 World Financial Group Continental Cup in Langley, B.C.