EDMONTON - Even for a sporting culture as charmingly eccentric as curling, Freaky Friday Night at the Tim Hortons Brier was a wild scene.
As hockey broadcaster Bob Cole, a former Brier skip himself, would have said: “Everything was happening!”
On one half of the four-sheet field of play at Rexall Place, you had four-time champion Kevin Martin and 2006 Brier winner Jean-Michel Menard battling on adjacent sheets for one final victory each to help propel them into a playoff tiebreaker.
Both the Alberta and Quebec skips also absolutely required that, on the other half of the arena, one or both of Peter Flemming’s Nova Scotia rink or Andrew Bilesky’s B.C. team, a combined 2-18 in the Brier, win against either Northern Ontario or Manitoba, who were both sitting at 7-3 for the tournament.
Rarely in the annals of Brier history have two such accomplished skips owed so much to two such overmatched teams. Talk about needing help to make the playoffs? Yikes.
“Man, was that something, eh, that was great!” said Martin, after drawing the four-foot in the 10th end to defeat defending champion Glenn Howard 6-5, improve his record to 7-4, but fail to advance to the playoffs.
He didn’t get the help he needed. In the end, Menard couldn’t help himself, losing 8-5 to Brock Virtue of Saskatchewan. Despite losing as he won, Martin had a blast, seemingly.
“That was loud!” he said. “That was Oiler playoff loud, if you guys remember the last time.”
Ouch. At least Martin went down swinging, no small thing after declaring his playoffs hope “Dead,” earlier in the week. Well, he won his final six games in a row, curling superbly in the process.
A big part of the Friday night noise was the cheering for B.C. and Nova Scotia as they battled to the 11th end, in B.C.’s case and to the final stone in the 10th for Nova Scotia.
Bilesky and Flemming made Stoughton and Jacobs earn their passages to the playoffs. Jacobs now plays Newfoundland and Labrador’s Brad Gushue, who had beaten Menard 5-4 in the afternoon to run his record to 8-3 to clinch a playoff berth and miss all the madness later in the day.
The madness involved a Rexall Place crowd of 11,855, tops at the Brier so far, loudly and proudly cheering for Martin, even as they kept an eye on the B.C.-Manitoba and Northern Ontario-Nova Scotia matches.
So it was that after Flemming fell behind 1-0 to Brad Jacobs in the first end, the Nova Scotia skip managed to blank four ends in a row until he finally was forced to take a single in the sixth end, to a round of applause from the knowledgeable Edmonton fans.
In the early going, Martin himself was sneaking peeks at the scoreboards on the adjacent rinks, checking to see whether his game was being played for anything more than pride.
The drama built until the bitter end, which came for Nova Scotia, when Jacobs played a routine hit for one to win 5-2, improve to 8-3 and move on.
“It was good in the building,” Jacobs said, noting the ice held up well despite the heat. “I also thought they would be cheering for our misses and maybe chirping us a little more, but they didn’t.
“So, thank you to the Alberta fans for not chirping us too much.”
The fans began chanting “How-ard, How-ard, How-ard” in the 10th end of the Alberta match. The 50-year-old veteran skip just waved at them like a conductor directing the band, using his broom as a baton, which silenced them.
“They were the loudest I’ve ever witnessed in a curling arena,” Howard said. “That crowd was — Wow! — it was
“Exciting. My heart is still pounding.”
As their hometown skip slid down the ice to make his final shot, the same fans hollered “Kev-in Mar-tin! Kev-in Mar-tin!” They cheered his final stone all the way up the ice as the front end of Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert swept it in to count for the game-winning point.
Then they gave Martin and his teammates a standing ovation. Martin finished with six straight victories to fashion a 7-4 won-lost record after stumbling from the gate 1-4.
Any fears that Martin’s surprisingly slow start would damage the artistic quality of this Brier were washed away with his sublime play that just fell short of carrying Alberta into the playoffs.
Martin and Howard stood together watching the Bilesky-Stoughton match finish off in an extra end as the crowd launched into a, “Let’s go, B.C.” chant.
Stoughton calmly made his final draw, silencing the taunting chants of his name, a gesture he decidedly did not enjoy the way Howard did.
“Not at all,” said Stoughton, whose Manitoba team now will play Howard in the 1-2 Page Playoff game Saturday afternoon. “When they’re heckling and yelling at you to miss, it’s a lot different than when they’re cheering for you, that’s for sure.
“I’m really glad we made that last shot. It felt really good. I was able to calm down, because it was pretty damn exciting out there, that’s for sure.”
Manitoba won over B.C. 6-5, as well, in a game that might have been Bilesky’s best performance of the Brier.
“We were saying we were probably going to be playing for Alberta in the game,” said Bilesky, a deer-in-the-headlights Brier rookie, start to finish. “Being part of that was (something).
“I’ve never experienced anything like that when the crowd went crazy when we went to the extra end. I don’t even know how to explain that.”
Easy. Everything was happening.
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