Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard no longer flying under the radar at Brier
Unassuming skip sits at 3-0 after Day 2 after stunning Alberta’s Kevin Martin in morning draw
EDMONTON — If it were possible for a former Brier champion to fly below the radar through the round robin at the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier, it would have been Quebec skip Jean-Michel Menard.
But not anymore.
The 37-year-old Brier veteran, who won the Canadian championship in 2006 in Regina, was not merely sitting at 3-0 after Day 2 of the Brier he had stunned hometown favourite Kevin Martin 8-4 in Sunday’s morning draw in fashioning his fast start.
That setback had Martin, a four-time Brier champion, muttering about mismatched stones, which, in turn, had some observers rolling their eyes.
The unassuming Menard, meanwhile, acknowledged the inconsistency of the stones was “a bit of a headache,” but it was clearly a factor the Quebec rink was able to manage in following up their morning victory with a 6-3 win over Northwest Territories/Yukon, before enjoying a night off.
“We’re super happy right now,” Menard said. “Looking at the schedule, we were hoping after Day 2 we’d be 2-1, best-case scenario.
“I wouldn’t say 3-0 was beyond our expectations, but let’s just say it’s A-plus for us.
“We’re very happy.”
With Martin, defending champion Glenn Howard of Ontario, 2006 Olympic champion Brad Gushue, and three-time champion Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba in a packed field, Menard had arrived in Edmonton with no illusions about being a favourite to win.
Indeed, Menard flies under the radar in his home province, where curling simply does not have the following it does in Alberta or Manitoba, for example.
“I personally find it easier like this,” Menard said, laughing. “There’s no pressure.
“We come over here, we do our stuff. If we do well, we’ll eventually show up in a newspaper. If we don’t do well, they won’t show us.
“So, it’s a win-win situation for us.”
Menard, who beat James Grattan’s New Brunswick rink 5-4 in the opening draw on Saturday, plays some Grand Slam events, but geography and family responsibilities prevent more frequent participation on the cashspiel circuit.
His team might develop more consistency, Menard said, but the cost in time away from family, travel and other factors would be too high.
Jean-Michel Menard lives in Gatineau, across the river from Ottawa, his brother Philippe, who throws lead stones, lives in the Montreal suburb of Brossard, while third Martin Crete and second Eric Sylvain both live in the Quebec City suburb of Levis.
They players practise and play club games separately, getting together only for bonspiels. Still, Menard is happy with the level of play the team has brought to the Brier and is cautiously optimistic about his chances here in Edmonton.
“I think we have a team that is easily capable of a 6-5 won-lost record, if we play well,” Menard had said on Saturday after his tournament-opening victory. “If we play very well, we should be able to get that extra victory to post a 7-4 mark that, normally, will get you into the tiebreaker or the playoffs.”
After running his record to 3-0 on Sunday, Menard had recalibrated his expectations just a tad.
“The way we’re playing right now, I think we can honestly finish 7-4,” Menard said. “If we finish this way, we have a good sniff at finishing 7-4, yes.
“Now, it’s just a question of keeping the same focus and intensity for the remaining games and making sure we don’t become flat, or whatever.”
Given Menard’s strong start, propelled by his own shotmaking (89 per cent) and the 91 per cent shooting of Crete, his third, he may well goose up Brier interest in Quebec, also.
The Brier is telecast on RDS, the French-language partner of TSN, but other media coverage is understated, shall we say.
He said there remains a strong cadre of elite curlers in Quebec, but one that is thinning out noticeably, if not alarmingly, as the years go on.
“The issue we’re having right now is that entries for the playdowns are down like crazy,” Menard said. “When we won in 2006, there were 120 teams that signed up for the Tankard, ballpark.
“This year? Thirty. Every year, we’re losing (teams). I thought it would do the opposite, when we won (the 2006 Brier), people would want to play more. I think they got the other attitude — you guys won, we don’t have a sniff, so we won’t play anymore.
“Our group is getting smaller every year. One’s dropping (out), one’s dropping. And there’s not a whole lot of great juniors coming up, so our elite group is shrinking every year.”
None of which diminishes Menard’s chances here in Edmonton, chances that took a big uptick with his victory over Martin en route to a 3-0 start.
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