Glenn Howard ran the table at the Masters Grand Slam of Curling in Abbotsford this week, and the scariest thing for his opponents at the upcoming Canadian Olympic trials is, he firmly believes his rink has room to get better.
“We still haven’t brought our A game yet, I don’t think,” the Penetanguishene, Ont. skip asserted after capping a 7-0 week with a 7-4 win over Edmonton’s Kevin Martin in the men’s final at the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre on Sunday.
“That wasn’t our best game out there, but we seemed to manufacture the right shots. When one guy misses, the next guy comes up with a big one. That’s the sign of a great team . . . hopefully we’ll build on that and get better.”
The Howard team has tweaked its schedule this season with an eye on the all-important Olympic trials in Winnipeg, Dec. 1-8. They’re playing fewer bonspiels this fall, preferring to spend the extra time practicing and resting.
“We feel it’s going to be a long week in Winnipeg at the trials, and the more rested team, the more prepared team I think is going to be the one that wins,” Howard explained. “We feel that’s the right recipe to win.”
It was certainly the right recipe to win in Abbotsford, as Howard’s rink – which also features third Wayne Middaugh, second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill – earned $26,000 for their week’s work. They also stayed in the running for a $1 million bonus, which is awarded if one team is able to win all of the Grand Slams during the 2013-14 season. The Masters is the first of four such events.
Sunday’s final pivoted in the fifth end. With the score tied 2-2 and the house littered with Howard’s yellow stones, Martin made a terrific shot with his last rock, threading the needle to lie one.
Howard called it “a one-in-50 shot” that Martin had made, but he responded with a tough angle raise takeout to score four and break the game open.
“They had us in trouble right off the bat, and it was really weird how it developed,” Howard said. “I thought Kevin had a chance to blast a few (with his first rock) to get a bunch of yellows out, but he opted just to do a tap-back, and he ended up missing.
“It kind of came out of nowhere. At the beginning of the end, if you’d have said we’d score one, I would have been happy.”
According to the event emcee, Sunday’s game was the 43rd meeting between Canadian curling legends Howard and Martin since 2001. Martin has a 24-19 edge in the series and beat Howard in the final of the Olympic trials four years ago, but Howard has won all three Grand Slam finals between the two.
“They’re always epic battles,” Howard said with a wry chuckle. “He’s a wily veteran – you can’t ever take him for granted. Fortunately we won that one today, but he’s unbelievable. They just keep coming at you. Even with a four-point lead, you knew the game wasn’t in the bag. You’ve got to keep executing.”
HOMAN BESTS MUIRHEAD IN WOMEN’S FINAL
On the women’s side, Ottawa’s Rachel Homan defended her Masters title, knocking off reigning world champion Eve Muirhead in the women’s final on Sunday afternoon.
Homan broke the game open in the fourth end, scoring three points to seize a 5-2 lead. Muirhead got back to within 6-5 after the seventh end, but Homan kept her at bay in the eighth to clinch the victory and a $23,000 payday for her rink, which also features third Emma Miskew, second Alison Kreviazuk and lead Lisa Weagle.
“This spiel is just such an amazing thing to play well at,” enthused Homan, who had to weather a tiebreaker en route to the title.
“You get so many good games – all the Olympic teams and all our trials teams. It’s the best competition from all over the world, so it was a great run for us.”