Ontario's Glenn Howard, Newfoundland/Labrador's Brad Gushue draw a wonderful preview of Brier coming attractions

 

Sublime match at Edmonton’s Rexall Place ‘won by a couple of inches’

 
 
 
 
Ontario skip Glenn Howard, centre, watches his shot as second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill sweep during the afternoon draw against Newfoundland and Labrador at the Tim Hortons Brier in Edmonton on Thursday, March 7, 2013.
 

Ontario skip Glenn Howard, centre, watches his shot as second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill sweep during the afternoon draw against Newfoundland and Labrador at the Tim Hortons Brier in Edmonton on Thursday, March 7, 2013.

Photograph by: JONATHAN HAYWARD, THE CANADIAN PRESS

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EDMONTON - Brent Laing thinks he and his teammates with Glenn Howard’s undefeated Ontario rink are playing as well as they ever have, which may actually provide a sliver of hope to their pursuers at the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier.

Because if Howard, 9-0 after beating Quebec 4-2 to clinch first place Thursday night, can find an even higher notch on the performance dial in the playoffs, this Brier may well be over, except for the jaw-dropping shotmaking.

There was plenty of that in Howard’s 6-5 win over an excellent Brad Gushue-led team from Newfoundland/Labrador on Thursday afternoon, none more spectacular than a wonderful back-and-forth exchange in the ninth end.

The match could have been a preview of coming attractions, such as the 1-2 Page Playoff game, not to mention the Brier final on Sunday.

“I thought that was one hell of a curling game,” Howard said at game’s end. “I don’t care what anybody says, there were eight really great curlers out there tonight.

“It was a fun one to play, it was a fun one to watch. We won by a couple inches, that was the difference in the game.”

As for the ninth end, Howard said: “That was entertaining. It went back and forth. It looked like Brad had control, then we kind of got it back.

“Brad sort of controlled the end, I thought. Fortunately, I made a pretty good one with my last one and it got to a spot where we sat two.”

With Ontario up 5-4, the teams down to skips rocks, Gushue lifted the fans from their seats when he made a double raise takeout to sit two with his first shot.

Howard responded by navigating a narrow port, then tapping back two Ontario rocks to sit two himself, forcing Gushue to make a delicate, last-shot draw to the side of the button to count one.

He did. And that sent the game to the 10th end tied 5-5. It was sublime curling, pure and simple.

Howard controlled the final end right to the final shot, when he calmly drew the button to secure the 6-5 victory.

“It was intense, but it was fun,” Ontario second Brent Laing said of the showdown with Gushue, now 7-2. “It was intense because it was such a good game, you knew you couldn’t take any shots off.”

Even Gushue enjoyed the icebound oneupmanship, despite being on the wrong side of it, in the end.

“It was fun to see those shots being made, and they were being made just perfect,” Gushue said. “It was one of the better curling ends I’ve been a part of in a long time.

“Having to draw the side of the button against two. You expect when you make seven or eight shots not to have to do that, but they made some great shots.”

Almost as soon as the game was over, Ontario’s Laing was slotting it among the best he’s ever played, in his affable, matter-of-fact fashion.

“They played really well, we played really well,” Laing said. “Those are the games that are the most fun.

“We had a couple of those against (Edmonton skip Kevin) Martin a couple of years back, I think it was in 2009. We lost both games. It’s not that it’s fun when you lose, but when you go out and you play your best, you’re OK with what happens.

“I think both teams did that today and fortunately we came out on the right side.”

Coming into this Brier the ‘Big Four’ of Howard, Martin, Gushue and Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton was expected to battle it out.

Martin took himself out of that equation by stumbling to a 1-4 start, leaving Howard, Gushue and Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton as a power trio.

Eight games in, Howard has separated from Gushue and Manitoba (7-1) by the simplest of methods — shooting the lights out as a team.

Against Newfoundland, Howard’s rink curled 92 per cent, with lead Craig Savill nailing his shots at a 96 per cent clip, Laing hitting at 90 per cent, and third Wayne Middaugh and Howard both at 91 per cent.

For the tournament, Laing is curling 93 per cent, tops among regular seconds, while Middaugh (91 per cent) is leading all thirds. Howard and Gushue both are killing it, at an 89 per cent clip, best among the skips.

Against most teams, in most games the 85 per cent that Newfoundland collectively curled (Gushue shot 93 per cent, actually) against Ontario would have been sufficient.

But Howard’s team is at the peak of its powers. Just how good are they curling? Laing was asked.

“I think we’re playing as well as we’ve ever played, this week, top to bottom,” said Laing, who has helped Howard win two Briers and two world championship titles during his time with the 50-year-old skip. “There’s always a shot you remember, here or there, that you’d like back, but overall I don’t think we can play much better.”

All of which is nice, but Laing knows it’s not just how you play, but being able to deliver that level of performance on command when it matters most, in the upcoming playoffs.

“So far. But Wayne (Middaugh) will tell you, he played great on the wrong weekend before. The right weekend to play like this is coming up and hopefully we can keep it rolling.”

Laing reckons it’s a coincidence, but he and his teammates have sparkled at Rexall Place before: at the 2007 world championship, which they won; and at the 2009 Olympic Trials, when Martin punched his ticket to an eventual gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

If past is prologue, Rexall Place curling fans will be in for a fabulous show before this Brier is over.

jmackinnon@edmontonjournal.com

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Ontario skip Glenn Howard, centre, watches his shot as second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill sweep during the afternoon draw against Newfoundland and Labrador at the Tim Hortons Brier in Edmonton on Thursday, March 7, 2013.
 

Ontario skip Glenn Howard, centre, watches his shot as second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill sweep during the afternoon draw against Newfoundland and Labrador at the Tim Hortons Brier in Edmonton on Thursday, March 7, 2013.

Photograph by: JONATHAN HAYWARD, THE CANADIAN PRESS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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