Veteran skip Glenn Howard among the headliners at PointsBet Invitational

Unlike many elite curling teams that are built for the full quadrennial, veteran Canadian skip Glenn Howard uses a season-by-season approach.

As long as he's having fun and his body holds up, the 61-year-old Howard says, he's keen to continue competing against the top rinks in the men's game.

His foursome is seeded 11th at this week's PointsBet Invitational, the first Season of Champions event of the season. The March Madness-style single-elimination format has 16-team draws featuring many of Canada's top men's and women's rinks.

""I'm a little nervous," Howard said of the new campaign. "The knees are a lot more sore than I'd like them to be. That might be a game-changer for me.

"But notoriously my knees start slow and they get better as I throw more rocks."

Howard will be one of the crowd favourites at the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex in Oakville, Ont. He lives about a two-hour drive away in the small town of Tiny, Ont.

Top women's seed Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., opens against Josie Zimmerman of Camrose, Alta. Brad Gushue of St. John's, N.L., the top men's seed, meets Greg Balsdon of Richmond Hill, Ont., in the first evening draw.

The 11th-seeded Howard will take on No. 6 Karsten Sturmay of Edmonton on Thursday.

"A great young team, up and comers," Howard said.

With son Scott Howard at vice and a front end of David Mathers and Tim March, the team has planned a busier schedule this season with eight bonspiels on the calendar before Christmas.

"They can leave any time they want but they seem to want to hang around with the old guy," Howard said with a laugh. "That means a lot to me that the boys want to stick around with me."

The four-time world champion underwent left knee surgery in July 2022 to fix meniscus issues and make tendon repairs.

Howard said he felt much better last season but he experienced some right knee discomfort over the summer.

"The body has taken a beating over the last couple of years," he said in a recent interview. "When it's sore, it does take the fun out of it. If it becomes too sore, that might be my telltale (sign). I really think this (season) is going to be a big litmus test.

"I really think this is going to be the one (season) that will say whether I can get through another couple or is this it."

Howard said playing the unusual format in the inaugural PointsBet Invitational last year led his squad to adjust its mindset at all competitions. Instead of a cautious, less-aggressive approach, there was a shift to more of a playoff mentality.

"When you play at a bonspiel, you've got an extra life and you can kind of rest on your laurels a bit," he said. "At the PointsBet, you've got no choice. You've got to go win your game or you're going home. So we have a different attitude."

Seedings for this year's brackets were based on last season's Canadian team rankings.

In addition to big names like Rachel Homan, Kaitlyn Lawes, Kevin Koe and Brendan Bottcher, the field also includes university/college teams, under-25, under-21 and grassroots competitors.

Play continues through Sunday. Winning teams will receive $50,000 apiece.

Winnipeg-based sides skipped by Jennifer Jones and Reid Carruthers were victorious last year in Fredericton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2023.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press