Martin edges rival Howard for 3rd Brier title

With his final rock, Alberta's Kevin Martin drew to the button to upend defending champion Glenn Howard of Ontario 5-4 for his third Canadian curling championship on Sunday night.

Kevin Martin will carry a 13-0 Brier record into next month's men's world curling championship in Grand Forks, N.D.

With his final rock, the Alberta skip drew to the button to upend defending champion Glenn Howard of Ontario 5-4 and secure his third Canadian championship on Sunday night in Winnipeg.

Martin became the first skip to complete an unblemished Brier mark since fellow Edmontonian Randy Ferbey did so in 2003 and earned Alberta its 23rd championship.

Martin's rink of John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Herbert pumped their fists in the air and hugged each as the final shot slid to a stop.

"Any time you get to wear your country's colours, that's pretty cool," Martin said. "It feels great.

"It'll be fun [at the worlds, beginning April 12]. It really gives us a foundation to build on for [the] 2010 [Vancouver/Victoria Olympics]."

The World Curling Tour's top-ranked player also defeated Howard 7-4 in round-robin play and has prevailed in each of their last three meetings.

Even with wonky ice at the packed MTS Centre, Martin was able to make the big shot when he needed it the most.

"We had the hammer coming home and luckily we had the four-foot to go for," said the Olympic silver medallist.

"You can only deal with what you are given. That's the way it goes. We were trying to be patient. That's what I told the guys. Let's keep the pressure on."

Howard, making his third consecutive appearance in the final, failed to become the first skip in Brier history to come from the 3-4 playoff game to win the event.

The reigning world champion made things interesting, though. Playing in less-than-ideal ice conditions, Howard scored his first deuce of the match with the hammer in the ninth end to erase a 4-2 deficit.

"I expected it to come to last shot," he said. "I actually thought it would be a more well-curled game.

"To win the Brier he [Martin] had to draw to the button and he made a perfect shot. We've had a phenomenal year. My guys have played fantastic. They played great again today."

It was the second straight nail-biting win for Martin, who pulled out an 8-7 victory over Pat Simmons of Saskatchewan in Friday night's 1-2 Page playoff to earn a spot in the final.

The Brier final was a match of the two best rinks in the world but it failed to produce the excitement and drama many fans had hoped. The teams played a cautious game and most of the points came off mistakes from the skip with the final stone.

"We were all sweating out there and it was high pressure," said Martin. "It was difficult to make good shots."

With Sunday's final tied 1-1, Martin scored two in the fourth end, only to see Howard cut a 3-1 advantage in half in the fifth.

Alberta made it 4-2 in the sixth end and had history on its side. When leading by one with the hammer in the sixth, Martin's record entering Sunday was 21-12, while Howard was 4-14 in such situations.

A frustrated Howard blamed ice conditions for turning what should have been a marquee game into what looked like a Tuesday night club match.

He said many rocks picked, which means they either picked up some debris on the ice or lost direction when they hit a soft spot.

"You just weren't sure what was going to happen," said Howard, who failed in his attempt to become the eighth skip to win back-to-back Brier titles. "I didn't enjoy it that much."

Martin, who curled just 79 per cent in the final compared to 83 per cent for Howard, agreed there were some problems with the ice.

"It wasn't that bad compared to some years," said the Edmonton skip, who last won the Brier 11 years ago. "It was so good all week and it just wasn't the same."

Howard gave Martin credit for keeping his focus.

"Kudos to Kevin," he said. "Even under those conditions he had to throw a great shot on this last stone and he put it right on the pin. He deserves it. Great shot."

Morris, who curled 90 per cent, was named the most valuable player of the final.

Earlier Sunday, Alberta dominated the all-star team named by members of the Canadian Curling Reporters.

Martin was named the all-star skip, with John Morris the third and Marc Kennedy a unanimous selection as second. Ontario's Craig Savill, not Alberta's Ben Hebert, was chosen as lead.

Howard was chosen as skip for the second all-star team. Also on the second team was Bob Ursel, the B.C. skip who throws third rocks, Ontario's Brent Laing at second and B.C. lead Rick Sawatsky.

Total attendance for the week was 165,075, the seventh highest in history.

Howard and his rink of Richard Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill were third after the round-robin with a 9-2 record.