The Eh Game

Ontario’s Brier win helps Glenn Howard silence critics

Eh Game

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Howard, Laing, Savill and Middaugh hug after winning the 2012 Brier. -Reuters

You could say that Ontario's 7-6 win over Alberta in the 2012 Brier Final was mostly a model of efficiency, sprinkled with doses of relief and revenge. Perhaps even some inevitability, if you ask the skip, Glenn Howard.

"This one we're going to win," Howard told reporters on Friday, after beating Manitoba to earn a berth in the championship game. He backed up that talk, as did the rest of his team, curling a ruthlessly accurate game on Sunday night.

The efficiencies are in the numbers. You don't have to know anything about curling to understand that, not with the kinds of statistics Ontario put up. Howard fired a 95% game. Vice Wayne Middaugh was even more astounding at 98%, setting a record for the position in a Brier final (Middaugh was chosen Brier Playoff MVP). Second Brent Laing checked in with 91% and Lead Craig Savill scored 86%. Those numbers, particularly those of Howard and Middaugh, are like shooting a 63 on the final day of The Masters.

Faced with that kind of a foe, and the fact that his Vice Pat Simmons was still trying to bounce back from the flu and a chest infection, it's testament to Alberta Skip Kevin Koe that he was able to stay in it, and even force Howard to throw his last rock in the 10th end to seal the win.

For Howard, as well as long time teammates Savill and Laing (Middaugh joined the team this year after the retirement of Richard Hart, who was back at home in Ontario, cheering them on), the revenge comes in the form of a win over a skip who broke their hearts two years ago, with a draw to the button to beat them in the final in Halifax. Koe shook of early game jitters to win as a rookie skip that night. As a sophomore, he ground it out and ground it out, but it was not to be.

The relief comes from being able to no longer have to deal with fans who wonder why, outside of 2007, they weren't able to follow up their sensational round robin performances with wins in the finals. A record of 2 and 4 in Brier finals may not be exactly what they'd like, but it's a heck of a lot better than 1 and 5.

It's a nagging question that absolutely did bother Howard. He confirmed that just before getting on a plane for Saskatoon a week and a half ago;

"I don't love the fact that it's brought up to me, because you're basing it on one game. Unfortunately, it's a big game. Don't get me wrong, winning the final is massive. But they can't base our accomplishments on one game. Just look at how consistent we've been over those 6 or 7 years. For sure it frustrates you a little bit because I don't think it's fair, but people are always entitled to their opinion."

As well as shaking off questions about his inability to put the finishing touches on national titles, Howard adds his name to an august list of skips who call themselves two-time Brier champions: Don Duguid, Hec Gervais, Pat Ryan, Ed Werenich, Kerry Burtnyk and Howard's brother Russ.

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From left: Craig Savill, Bent Laing, Wayne Middaugh, Glenn Howard. -Reuters

Middaugh, who led the province to a win at the 1998 Brier as skip, put his name into the record books, too, becoming the first man to ever win the championship at three positions. He played Second on Russ Howard's team, with Glenn at vice, in 1993. His contributions to the win, not just last night, have not gone unnoticed. Hart, himself, has noted that:

"I just think that he brings that new energy to the team. The team is definitely a little different, which I would hope they'd be, with a new line up. You know what I see is a lot of excitement. Wayne's really energized the team."

Up until a dicey situation in the 8th end, Howard's crew didn't seem to be very taxed in this one. And even with that, Howard answered with perhaps the shot of the night, a very finicky come around angle tap to the button, to score one when it looked like Alberta might steal a point themselves, and breathe a little life into their fading hopes. Had they scored there, it would have been 6-4, going to the 9th end. Instead, Ontario enjoyed a 7-3 lead and they nursed the margin home, against the stubborn Alberta rink, who found their range in the late going.

Through 7 ends, Howard was curling 98%, 100% on 10 hits thrown. He played spoiler in that 7th end with a delicate double take out that helped to ensure that Koe was forced to take one, cutting Ontario's lead to 6-3.

That will add to his satisfaction, you'd assume. In a game he guaranteed he'd win, against a team who added to his legacy of Brier woe two years ago and in the face of the pressure of a failure that could forever label him a chronic Brier loser, Glenn Howard rose to the occasion.

Efficiently.

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