Feeling "10 times better" after off-season knee surgery, the ageless Glenn Howard is feeling refreshed and energized as he aims to defend his team's title at the upcoming Ontario Tankard.
"It's unbelievable. I'm 60 years old and I've still got the fire," Howard said. "Every time I lace them up — and I don't care who we're playing against — I always think we can win. I plan on winning.
"Am I as good as I used to be? No. But I've still got that fire and that goes a long way."
The four-time world champion from Tiny, Ont., is one of the headliners in a 12-team field that begins play Monday in Port Elgin, about a three-hour drive northwest of Toronto.
Mike McEwen and John Epping are two of the other big-name skips in a field that includes Pat Ferris, Sam Mooibroek and Jason Camm.
"I actually think this year is more up in the air than it has been in about the last 15," Howard said. "Anybody can win and I don't necessarily say it's going to be Howard, Epping or McEwen.
"It could easily be one of the other nine."
Rachel Homan and Hollie Duncan headline the Ontario women's championship, which will be played at the same venue through Jan. 29. The champion will earn a berth at the Feb. 17-26 Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Kamloops, B.C.
The men's winner will represent Ontario at the March 3-12 Tim Hortons Brier in London, Ont.
Howard has won the Brier on four occasions over 20 career appearances.
"I think technically he's the best pure thrower of the curling rock to ever play the game and he just consistently does it over and over again," said former teammate Brent Laing, now a second on Team McEwen.
Howard won his first Ontario Tankard in 1986 at third with his brother, Russ, at skip. Glenn skipped his own team to eight straight provincial titles from 2006-13.
"I've never met a guy who loves the game more than Glenn," Laing said. "I know that that's why he plays because he still loves to play, loves to compete and loves to be part of a team."
Despite a regular training routine, injuries have been a challenge for Howard in recent years. A sore left knee prevented him from sliding at times last season.
Alternate Adam Spencer filled in at last year's Tankard and Howard's son, Scott, moved from vice to fourth. The Penetanguishene Curling Club rink settled for a 4-4 finish at last year's Brier in Lethbridge, Alta.
Howard underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last summer to fix meniscus issues and make tendon repairs. The team has played a lighter schedule this season and seen its ranking slip to No. 27 in Canada.
"It hasn't been our best year by any stretch but a lot of it is just between the ears," Howard said. "You can't worry about that. You just go out and try to make shots."
At No. 7, Epping is the lone team in the Ontario field in the national top 10. Ferris is ranked 11th in Canada while Mooibroek is 14th, McEwen is 15th and Camm is 20th.
McEwen recently parted ways with lead Jonathan Beuk. The team announced this week that Joey Hart — the son of coach Richard Hart — will fill in at provincials.
A home crowd at the national championship awaits the Tankard winner. Howard won two of his four Brier titles in Ontario, taking the 1993 crown in Ottawa and the 2007 title in Hamilton.
"To me, it's like an extra point on the scoreboard," Howard said. "You get a few more fans cheering for you. That gets the adrenalin pumping and gets you more excited. If you make a good shot, the cheers are hair-raising.
"I would love it. Nothing would make me happier than to pull this off and go to London and play in our home province."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2023.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press