Glenn Howard’s revamped curling team features Richard Hart, Jon Mead

The Eh Game

In this, Canadian curling's dizzying spring of change, the migrations continue, with big names changing teams, some changing provinces and in the case of some others, changing their minds.

While Ontario skip Glenn Howard sees two of his teammates going out the door, he welcomes back another - Rich Hart - who returns to try and rekindle the glories the two shared over so many seasons.

“We’re ready to go," said Howard over the phone from his home, Sunday night. "I’m super excited."

Howard will be reunited with his longtime vice when the 2014-15 season begins next fall, with Hart replacing Wayne Middaugh. Another very familiar face to curling fans, one belonging to veteran Jon Mead, will also grace the revamped Howard Four line-up next season, playing the second position.

While Craig Savill will continue to man the lead spot for Howard, the re-addition of Hart at vice signals the end of the road for Middaugh, the man who replaced Hart when the latter retired after the 2010-11 season.

Hart's decision comes as a bit of a surprise as he's been quite content to tend to his electrical business, coach his kids (at curling, naturally) and spend time in the Sportsnet booth as a curling analyst.

As Howard notes, Hart's return to the team was set in motion by the retiree, himself. Hart offered to play second for Howard who had, by that time, all but secured the services of Mead as his new vice.

Howard explains the series of text messages that flew back and forth, eventually leading to his former lieutenant agreeing to end his retirement.

“Rich texted me and asked when I’d be making the big announcement about a new team and who was I bringing in at second. I said, ‘well who do you think I’ve got at third?'"

When Hart responded that he figured Middaugh would be back, Howard informed him that he was fairly certain he was close to landing Mead tho throw third stones next season.

Hart then replied with a text asking his former skip if he would consider a second who'd never played the position before - namely himself - and Howard jumped at it.

“We got chatting and he showed some great interest," recalled Howard. "I was blown away that Rich was showing some interest in coming back. I said ‘hey, we’re going to make this work, lets just do it.’ We crossed the t’s, dotted the i’s and lo and behold he’s back on the team.”

Howard is thrilled to have his former vice back in the fold. Together, he and Hart combined to play back end on the team that won 6 straight Ontario Championships, a Brier and Worlds, as well as 8 Grand Slams, between 2000 and 2011. With Middaugh, the Howard Four won an additional 2 Ontario titles, a Brier, a Worlds and 6 Grand Slams, in three seasons.

Howard insists that not only is Mead good with the addition of Hart and the change it brings for him, he was actually a driving force behind the thought of Mead bumping back a notch to second.

“Jon was the one that was kind of adamant about it," said Howard.

Mead apparently feels that his skill set will suit Howard very well at second. He was also loathe to mess with the great chemistry Howard and Hart have shown as skip and vice over the years.

"We haven’t really discussed it as a team but that’s the way we’re sort of leaning," said Howard of the line up.

Mead, who's won two Brier championships with Jeff Stoughton (1999, 2011) as well as a world championship (2011), will step into the position vacated by the departing Brent Laing, who will join forces in Alberta with Kevin Koe, Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert.

“I wish him the best," said Howard, of Laing. "We had, absolutely, ten phenomenal years. Great years. I’m really sad to see Wayner go as well. Had three amazing years with Wayne, too.”

Indeed, Howard would have continued on the curling trail with Middaugh had it been possible to marry the needs of each of them next season.

“Wayne just can’t commit to a full schedule next year, he’s got a ton of stuff on his plate. He’s gonna kind of scale it back. Unfortunately for us that’s not going to work out with my plans and (playing more) doesn’t really fit his.”

Howard usually sounds upbeat but, during the conversation I had with him, he sounded even more chipper than usual. No wonder. In this spring of turbulence, he's gone from losing half his team to replacing those players with equally capable comrades over the course of just a few weeks.

Lately, he's been musing about making a go of it for another four years and taking another whack at a berth in the Olympics. If he is looking that far down the road - and with these teammates - isn't something he'll say at this point with certainty.

“I’m not going to rule anything out at this point. We’ve just committed for one year," he said.

"After that we’ll sit back and see where our lives take us and what transpires. Hopefully everything works out. I would not rule out that possibility that the four of us could keep going another few years.”

All of the upcoming changes to teams sets up a wild scenario at this week's Players' Championship, to be held in Summerside, Prince Edward Island. There will be a bevy of splintering teams taking part, with players contesting the Grand Slam event with mates they'll say goodbye to immediately afterward, and taking on foes that will soon become brothers in arms.

Howard's team is in that boat. Kevin Martin and Stoughton will play with teammates who will leave them at season's end.

Koe leaves his present teammates - the reigning Brier champions - at the close of the season as well.

It's a strange, strange situation, the likes of which Howard says he's not seen before.

“I’ve been around the game the better part of forty years and I can’t think of a time when it’s been sort of more convoluted, disrupted, all over the map when it comes to teams changing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

He believes there's a good reason for that. You snooze, you lose.

“You can’t wait too long because players get snapped up," Howard said.

In snapping up Jon Mead and Rich Hart, Glenn Howard is set for next season.

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