Confidence returns to Kevin Martin’s Alberta rink at 2013 Tim Hortons Brier
‘The step, the shooting — everything has definitely improved’; Hosts will need a little help to create tiebreaker situation
EDMONTON - Slowly, surely, Alberta’s Kevin Martin is starting to look like Lazarus.
Martin said his Saville Centre rink of John Morris, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert was dead after losing on Tuesday morning for the fourth time in their first five games at the Tim Hortons Brier.
Now the four-time Canadian men’s curling champion is attempting to rise from the dead. He kept his faint hopes alive with a 6-5 win over Saskatchewan’s Brock Virtue in front of 8,642 spectators on Thursday night at Rexall Place.
“There’s a faint heartbeat, but there’s still a heartbeat,” said Martin. “If we can get a little help here, it sure would be fun to get into the playoffs.”
Martin improved his record to 5-4 — the first time he’s been above .500 at this Brier — by also trouncing Prince Edward Island’s Eddie MacKenzie 7-2 earlier in the day.
“We’re battling back as hard as we can here,” said Alberta third John Morris. “We have a sniff. That’s all we can ask.
“We need a lot of things to happen in our favour,” he continued, “but the fact we’re at four losses and still have a sniff, we’ve got to hold on to that and just play our hearts out.
“We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to the rest of Alberta to do that.”
There’s no guarantee that Martin can qualify for the weekend’s playoffs. His final two round-robin games Friday are against Newfoundland Labrador’s Brad Gushue (7-2) at 8:30 a.m. and Ontario’s Glenn Howard (9-0), who clinched first place with Thursday night’s 4-2 win over Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard (6-3), at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re coming back now, but the problem is we’ve got a couple of real tough games,” said Martin. “We could still lose one, even if we shoot 90 (per cent).”
Martin also needs at least two of the following four teams — Gushue, Menard, Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton (7-2), and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs (6-3) — to fall to four losses to put a tiebreaker situation into effect.
Manitoba (Northwest Territories/Yukon, British Columbia) and Northern Ontario (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia) both have relatively easy schedules. The ideal scenario for Alberta is to win both games and also have Quebec beat Newfoundland but lose to Saskatchewan.
“I don’t think Northern Ontario is going to lose another game, unfortunately for us, so we need a little help from our friends from Saskatchewan in their last game,” Martin said. “We’ll do our best to get to 7-4. I don’t think we can do much more than we are. We’re actually playing pretty good now.”
Alberta second Marc Kennedy said after the P.E.I. game that the idea of Alberta making the playoffs is “still pretty far-fetched. Nothing has really changed except we’ve won a couple of games, so everyone’s demeanour is a little better, a little more positive, a little more fun out there.”
Kennedy admitted that the Martin rink, which includes lead Ben Hebert, are front-runners, which seems to be showing as the team won its third and fourth games in a row Thursday. Martin shot 95 per cent against P.E.I. for his best game of the week while Kennedy was scored at 100.
“We’ve always been a better team when we get a couple of wins under our belt. Everyone is. It’s just a comfort, right. We’ve always been comfortable front-runners. If we were out there 7-0 right now, we’d be happy-go-lucky, playing with the crowd, it’s just an easier feel,” Kennedy said.
“That’s why I still think that first game of the week against Manitoba just got us off on the wrong foot and it’s really hard to recover when you know you had one of the best teams in the world beat and you let it go and then you’ve got to get up in the morning and beat another good team. That’s when things start to struggle.”
Kennedy also said that the team has always played its best when the players have made life on the curling rink easy for the 46-year-old Martin.
“If one of us is off, sometimes you’ll see Kevin struggle a little bit,” he said. “That’s just because the shots are going to be tougher.
“When he’s got a little bit more easier, standard shots, things go better. That’s always been our focus — give Kevin easy ones — and we haven’t been doing that this week. He’s had some tough ones all week and you can’t live and die by that. You can’t do that all the time.”
Kennedy also said opponents seem to have more confidence against them, which translates into high shooting percentages, because “they’ve seen a little bit of weakness from us this year.
“We didn’t have a good Canada Cup and we’ve had a couple of tough events and guys have pounced on it,” he said. “And then we were a little bit off with some draws, and you don’t have to miss by much to lose to these teams.”
Morris said it’s a tough situation “when you’re playing your heart out and the other guy is shooting 100 per cent against you. We want to win as bad as we’ve ever wanted to, and when it’s not coming, it’s not human to not get frustrated.”
Now Alberta has the rocks figured out (Morris said they like the rocks in their last two round-robin games) and the players have found their draw weight.
“I’ve got confidence in this team,” said Morris. “We’ve won two Briers where we didn’t lose a game, and this time we only have to win seven straight rather than 13.”
Martin can see the confidence returning in his teammates.
“The step, the shooting, everything has definitely improved.”
One thing that hasn’t changed has been the support of the fans.
“The crowd’s been fantastic. They’ve hung with us right from the start, actually,” said Martin. “It’s been really good from a hometown point of view. I’ve got to see a lot of friends that I haven’t seen for a long time. It’s been a heck of a week that way.
“We just stumbled out of the gate. That happens in sports sometimes.”
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