Playing with Hart: Lead Joe Hart and father Richard wearing Ontario colours at Brier

LONDON, Ont. — With a lineup vacancy ahead of the recent Ontario curling playdowns, Brent Laing checked in on some former teammates before firming up a replacement.

He sent a group text to Richard Hart and Wayne Middaugh - both now in their mid-50's -- to see if they could "still slide."

"Both Wayne and I went, 'Ha ha, sorry Brent, we'd love to help but we can't,'" Hart recalled Monday with a laugh.

The recruitment process was firmed up later that day. Laing reached out to Hart again while he was travelling on the highway.

This time he asked about Hart's son, who was also in the car. Joe Hart was quick to accept the opportunity.

"It was definitely a great moment," Joe said. "It was kind of out of the blue. I didn't see it coming."

Hart, a 2017 Canadian junior finalist, quickly meshed with Laing, Ryan Fry and skip Mike McEwen at the provincial championship, helping the veteran side beat Glenn Howard in the final to book their Brier ticket.

The host team, which parted ways with lead Jonathan Beuk in early January, has split its first four games at Budweiser Gardens.

"Joey just brings the energy and obviously the kid can sweep," Laing said. "He's a monster. So that's fun and he's played really well. He's excited and he's kind of excited the three of us to see the Brier through his eyes again."

Richard, a 1998 Olympic silver medallist and 2007 world champion, also came on board as coach.

Joe's team jacket was draped on Richard's chair as he watched the Toronto-based side drop an 8-7 decision to Prince Edward Island's Tyler Smith on Monday.

"It's really exciting for Joe and I to get this opportunity on so many levels," Hart said. "Obviously there's the father-son angle.

"But even for Joe to get a chance to play with three world-class curlers, it's amazing the experience that Joe is going to get just by playing with them. It's a real thrill."

Joe was in his teens when he made his first Brier appearance as an alternate at the 2016 playdowns in Ottawa.

Hart subbed in at one point to join his father and then-teammates Howard and Scott Howard. It was the first time that two father-son duos were in the same on-ice lineup at a Brier.

"I sat beside Wayne Middaugh (injured at the time) and a bunch of great coaches and alternates from other teams," Joe said of that Brier experience. "I got to see what all the top teams do in the big events. Wayne talked to me a lot about strategy."

Hart went on to make two appearances at the junior nationals. He has mainly served as a substitute at the competitive level in recent seasons.

His chiselled physique is an asset in a position where sweeping power is key. Hart's bulging biceps fully stretch the sleeves of his red and black Ontario shirt.

"I knew that he was going to fit right in and just sweep his heart out for them," said Matt Hall, who teamed with Hart at the junior level.

Richard had a similar Brier path. He made his nationals debut as an alternate in 1995 with Ed Werenich and returned to the Brier in 2006 as a third for Howard, taking silver that year in Regina.

"I think I've been good to help with Ryan and Mike's development and their relationship as a third and skip," the elder Hart said. "That's kind of my specialty as I did it for so many years with Glenn."

Ontario will need to pick up some victories over the last three days of round-robin play to have a shot of making the three-team cut out of Pool B. McEwen returns to action Tuesday morning against Yukon's Thomas Scoffin.

In other early games Monday, Alberta's Kevin Koe needed an extra end to complete a 9-7 victory over Reid Carruthers of Wild Card 2. Koe made a short in-off for a deuce to remain unbeaten in Pool A at 4-0.

Wild Card 3's Karsten Sturmay edged Yukon 7-6 and Nova Scotia's Matthew Manuel scored five points in the eighth end for a 10-4 win over Nunavut's Jake Higgs.

The lone unbeaten skip in Pool B, Brendan Bottcher of Wild Card 1, was scheduled to play British Columbia's Jacques Gauthier in the afternoon draw.

Another draw was on tap in the evening. The playoffs begin Friday and the final is set for Sunday night.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2023.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press