Alberta’s Kevin Martin running out of chances to make Brier playoffs
Edmonton-based rink needs help, luck — and a win over undefeated Glenn Howard of Ontario, the defending world champ — to dream of moving on
Alberta skip Kevin Martin raises his broom after defeating Newfoundland and Labrador at the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier in Edmonton on Friday, March 8, 2013. Martin needs to beat undefeated Ontario and help from other teams in Friday’s evening draw to make the playoffs, which start Saturday. Photo by Larry Wong/Edmonton Journal
Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON - The chances of Kevin Martin’s Alberta team making the Tim Hortons Brier playoffs are slim and getting slimmer.Although Martin’s been taking care of his end of things by winning five consecutive games since a shocking 1-4 start, he was still relying upon other teams to lose right up until the final round-robin draw of the Canadian men’s curling championship on Friday night at Rexall Place.
Wins by Newfoundland and labrador’s Brad Gushue, 5-4 over Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard, and Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs, 7-4 over New Brunswick’s James Grattan, during Friday afternoon’s draw didn’t help Martin’s cause.
Gushue (8-3), who lost his previous three games to former Brier champions, became the second team to qualify for the playoffs.
Martin, who has missed the playoffs only once in 11 previous Briers (in 2000 at Saskatoon), was left with trying to end Ontario’s Glenn Howard’s 20-game Brier winning streak dating back to last year in his last game and hoping for Jacobs or Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton (7-3) to get upset by Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming (1-8) or British Columbia’s Andrew Bilesky (1-9), respectively.
“We’ve done a good job of bouncing back,” Alberta second Marc Kennedy said after Friday morning’s 6-5 win over Brad Gushue. “We had a couple of good talks about just looking at the big picture. ‘We might not qualify this week, but let’s come out and play a good last six or seven games and at least leave here on a good positive note.’
“We’ve managed to do that,” he continued, “and we’re lucky that the teams around us are losing a bit and made it interesting.
“If we can get out of this 7-4, whether we’re in the playoffs or not, I think it’s a positive for the team,” Kennedy said. “Adversity is what breeds championships. If we can face what we faced this week in our hometown and come out with a winning record, which we have, it shows we can overcome tough times.”
Kennedy pointed out that the Martin rink lost the 2009 world championship final to Scotland’s David Murdoch — a game Kennedy says they “never should have lost” — and came out later that year to win the (Olympic) Trials.
The Trials are once again prominent on the horizon, scheduled for next December at Winnipeg.
“You learn more from the losses in weeks like this than you do from the wins,” Kennedy said. “Hopefully, it’ll help us grow as curlers and maybe even a little bit as people.
“We’ve been so fortunate over the years in a lot of our big events, we haven’t faced adversity like this. If we can respond to it in a positive way, only good things will come out of it. We’ve never faced a round robin at 1-4 in a Brier or worlds or Olympic Trials. That’s brand new to us. So we’ve had to turn into a little bit more of grinders instead of front-runners and that’s good. It rounds out our team a little bit more.”
Martin, whose Saville Centre rink includes third John Morris and lead Ben Hebert, usually looks forward to matches with Howard (10-0), who has already clinched first place and a berth in Saturday’s Page Playoff 1-2 game at 1:30 p.m.
The Page 3-4 game will be played at 6:30 p.m.
“We’ve had awesome games against Glenn for a long, long time,” said Martin. “There’s no guarantee of winning ... just go toe-and-toe and hope you win, because that’s how it always works with Glenn.
“They are playing awesome right now. Glenn is full of confidence. Wayne (Middaugh, the third), I don’t know what he’s doing, a 96 average or some crazy thing. Good on them. They’re playing great.”
Of course, Martin has to hand Howard his first loss to have any chance of making the playoffs. Martin had beaten Howard eight consecutive times in Brier and Olympic Trials competitions until losing the Page Playoff 3-4 game in the 2011 Brier.
“They’ve all been right down to the wire, anybody can win,” Kennedy said about previous Howard-Martin matchups. “Hopefully, we have a good battle tonight for the crowd.”
Martin had a good battle during his morning game with Gushue, making a tapback for two in the seventh end to tie the score 4-4 and then making a double-takeout for his first lead of the game after the 32-year-old Newfoundland skip was unable to make a freeze with his last rock in the 10th end.
“Kevin made two great shots in seven for his deuce, and we got a couple of misses out of Brad late, and we weren’t getting those earlier in the week,” Kennedy said. “Any time it looked like we had a chance, the other team was pouncing on us. We weren’t getting any breaks.”
While Martin and his teammates were trying to make the best of a tough situation, Howard was enjoying one of the best Briers his team has ever played.
“It’s been surreal,” he said. “All four guys have just been firing on the proverbial all eight cylinders. 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 now has choice of rocks and hammer in the first end of the Page 1-2 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.”
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