Team Glenn Howard will go after the Ontario Tankard instead of TSN Skins dollars, after all.
“Twenty four hours later, a lot of soul searching....” Howard said on Monday night, confirming that he and his teammates had reversed their decision, opting to take part in Ontario's last chance spiel, the Challenge Round.
In the moments and hours after Howard's stunning loss to Aaron Squires in a regional playdown in Gravenhurst, Ontario, he and teammates Rich Hart, Jon Mead and Craig Savill had every intention of keeping their date with TSN and the big bucks that will be available in Banff, even though it meant they would have to see any chance at an Ontario title - and a Brier berth - die.
"Our first gut reaction when we got off the ice on the weekend - obviously we had a horrible weekend - our first reaction was ‘well, the season’s over for playdowns, we’re gonna go to the Skins Game,” said Howard.
Indeed, it seemed there was no reversing course, although Hart did leave some wiggle room, saying on Sunday that they were "98 per cent" sure of going to Skins.
“Hate like heck to give up the chance to play in the Skins Game, because it’s one of the best events on the planet,” said Howard, before explaining that sober second thought - and with a disappointing loss given some breathing room - allowed the four to reconvene their thoughts on what they set as a season's goal.
“At the beginning of the year, our goal was to go to the provincials, go to the Brier, hopefully go to the worlds. We still have an opportunity to do that. So we felt that’s what we have to do.”
“We still really want to get back to the Brier and do the best we can.”
Howard's loss over the weekend set of a firestorm of opinion and discussion concerning the province of Ontario's qualification process. With players being subjected to terrible ice conditions at regionals (a number of competitors not on the Howard team told me it was awful) it appeared one of the world's top teams would not be playing in its own province's championship, leading some of us to question whether Ontario was lagging behind other provinces who offer berths to teams that do well in tour events.
Howard believes Ontario needs to change.
“I feel that maybe we’re a little bit behind right now,” he said, repeating a sentiment he's voiced for years. It's one that is backed by many observers, including veteran curling writer Bob Weeks, who brilliantly outlined his reasons for endorsing change in a column he posted earlier today. (To be fair, there is no shortage of passionate voices who believe Ontario's system is just fine the way it is)
“It (tour earned berths) kind of gives the teams that are out there flogging it week in and week out a chance to get to the provincials and it (still) gives that opportunity for other teams to get in,” said Howard, adding: “I think it’s time to look at it. I do believe it’s going to happen soon.”
Team Howard's choosing to play in the Ontario Challenge Round means some lucky team out there is going to get a chance to replace them in Banff. Howard was very complimentary about TSN's attitude towards them bowing out.
“What a class act. They were so, so understanding. Really made it easier for me to make that call. They said as soon as they knew of the possibility of the conflict, they’d already talked about different teams that they (might) invite.”
Here's an idea: Invite a team that might not otherwise get the chance to line their pockets at this event. While it's understandable if TSN goes with a big name crew, giving a more fiscally-challenged rink an opportunity to cash in a bit would be a nice gesture.