Exciting but disappointing end for Kevin Martin’s Brier run
Loud hometown crowd cheers Alberta on only to see team miss playoffs
Ontario's Craig Savill, Wayne Middaugh (blocked), Glenn Howard and Brent Laing, here playing Alberta in the final draw of the round-robin at the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier in Edmonton, finished atop the standings with a 10-1 record. Photo by Bruce Edwards/Edmonton Journal
Photograph by: Bruce Edwards, Bruce Edwards
Kevin Martin ended Glenn Howard’s Tim Hortons Brier winning streak at 20 games Friday night at a noisy Rexall Place, but it wasn’t enough to get the Alberta champions into the playoffs.
Martin and his Alberta rink of John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert did their part in an attempt to scramble back from a shocking 1-4 start in the Canadian men’s curling championship by winning his sixth straight game 6-5 over the defending champions from Ontario, who had already clinched first place on Thursday night.
But Martin, a four-time Canadian champion, needed help from some of the lesser teams to get into a tiebreaker. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the upsets he required from Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming and British Columbia, although Brier rookie Andrew Bilesky took Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton to an extra end before losing 6-5.
“We did the best we could,” said Martin. “We ran the table, which we had to do, and B.C. gave it a good go.
“We put ourselves in that position. We had to beat them today, and we did to have a chance, and I sure we would have had a chance because we’re curling pretty good now.”
The largest crowd of the week — 11,855 — was roaring as Howard went to throw his last few rocks and it got louder after Martin drew through a narrow port to sit on the can for the win and keep his dwindling hopes alive.
“Man was that something. That was great,” said Martin. “That was loud. That was Oilers playoff loud, if you guys remember the last time.”
“That was the most noise ever inflicted in a curling arena,” said Howard, who tried to incite the crowd to get even louder before throwing his last shot.
“That crowd was wow. Exciting. My heart’s still pounding.”
Martin said it was fun to have the crowd so active.
“To get the crowd riled up and not just on one game, they were riled up on our game, both Glenn and ourselves, but also the Northern Ontario game and the B.C. game. Unbelievable,” he said.
Martin, who has finished out of the playoffs only one before in 11 previous trips to the Brier (a 6-5 record in 2000 at Sasktoon) couldn’t remember ever playing in a similar scenario, with so many things on the line.
“It came down to so many last rocks and so many potential tiebreakers,” he said.
In the end, Stoughton, Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs all finished tied for second place at 8-3, behind Ontario’s 10-1 record. Stoughton and Jacobs had to win on the final draw while the crowd’s focus was on Martin and Howard.
Alberta finished just out of the playoffs at 7-4.
“As disappointing as it is, that was exciting for us and exciting for the crowd. There’s another Brier next year, so it’s not the end of the world,” said Kennedy. “Even though we’re knocked out, that was great. The crowd had a great time. Howard’s team had a great time.
“It sucks but I’m proud of this team and how we responded from 1-4. I think we’ve got to be pretty proud of ourselves. We’ll hold our heads up high and try to have a better start next time.”
Howard will play Stoughton in the Page Playoff 1-2 game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, with Gushue and Jacobs meeting in the 3-4 game at 6:30 p.m.
Howard has choice of rocks and hammer in the first end of his playoff game.
“We can pick a good yellow set and a good red set. That’s not going to be an issue,” he said. “Hammer is the key. That’s really the only advantage (of finishing in first place).”
Howard has never liked the Page Playoff system, where the first- and second-place teams play in the 1-2 game, with the winner advancing directly to the final and the loser dropping into the semifinal against the winner of the 3-4 game.
“It’s never made any sense to me, especially when there’s an outright winner of the round robin,” he said. “We could conceivably go 11-0 and somebody come in at 8-3, does it make sense that we should be playing a game?
“I always thought the winner should get a bye to the final.”
When Howard says it’s “surreal” how well his Ontario team has played this week, you know his players must have been spectacular.
They were the top-shooting team at 90 per cent.
“All four guys have just been firing on the proverbial all eight cylinders,” Howard said. “I love what I see. The confidence is there. We’re not making any back-to-back misses, there’s hardly any misses at all.
“It feels great. I just hope, obviously, we can maintain that and go right through the playoffs with the same quality of play.”
Howard’s Coldwater, Ont., rink of Wayne Middaugh, Brent Laing and Craig Savill has been the model of consistency while playing in each of the last eight Briers, winning 10, 10, nine, nine, 11, eight, 10 and 11 games in the round robin for a combined record of 78-10.
“My guys are just making everything and have over the years. It just shows we’re a really consistent team and a team that knows how to win,” he said.
They have also done very well in the playoffs, but Howard has won only two of six finals since 2006.
“Whoever plays the best that day,” Howard said about the final. “A couple of finals, Kevin (Martin)’s team stood on its head, Jeff Stoughton put on a clinic the one year, the year against Kevin Koe I thought we outplayed them the whole game, and then Kevin down the stretch made some of the most unbelievable shots. That’s what wins you Briers. You make those great, crazy, great, great shots and you win. It wasn’t like we played poorly. The other teams played awesome. That’s sports.
“Last year, we played awesome and didn’t give Kevin Koe a chance and that’s what you’ve got to do.”
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