The Curling News® photos byAnil Mungal– Click on images to increase viewing size
SASKATOON – There was plenty at stake Wednesday night at the 2012 Brier as every game had possible playoff implications. Ontario’s Glenn Howard, the leader in the clubhouse, had the evening off, and that left the rest of the field to do battle heading into Big Thursday.
I, too, was “rested” for that draw... although I did use the stairs on two occasions (and it felt great).
Mike Gaudet of Prince Edward Island comes in at 2-6, playing for pride and trying to play spoiler. Their opponents are the Jim Cotter team from B.C., who are 4-4 after their morning loss to Ontario. PEI opens with a deuce. B.C. is held to one but then steals two in the fourth end and another in the fifth. They appear to be in control at the break, but a sixth-end PEI deuce precedes a big a steal of two in the eighth and the Kelowna squad sits at five losses, hoping for help from others.
Newfoundland came in with five losses and battles the Terry Odishaw rink from New Brunswick in the battle of “New” provinces. A tight battle which included only one critical deuce, scored by Odishaw in the seventh end. Trailing one with hammer in the last end, Brad Gushue is unable to score two to win or even the single to tie and they drop to six losses and no chance for a tiebreaker berth.
Northern Ontario, at 4-4, pummels Nova Scotia 11-4 to stay at four losses. Okay, it was actually a lot closer until POW! – a four-ender in the ninth had them shaking hands and left anyone who bet on the under (total of 12 ½ points) crying in their Original 16 beer. Northern Ontario still has destiny in their own control of their fate, or something like that – anyway, it’s in their hands.
Original 16 beer. This sounds different. Wait a minute... whatever happened to Labatt, ie. Canada’s official Beer Of Curling since the first Labatt Brier in 1980?
The TSN game was the traditional Wednesday night contest, Manitoba versus Alberta. Quite non-traditional was the game airing on TSN2 as opposed to the main channel, which covered a Maple Leaf hockey game. Readers ie. subscribers of The Curling News knew this, as the Curling TV Guide (in the subscribers-only section of every issue) was accurate in its listing.
Key steals in the fourth and fifth ends gave Brandon’s Rob Fowler control, 5-2 at the break. And despite a rebound deuce from Calgary skip Kevin Koe, Manitoba was able to pull out an 8-5 win and keep their hopes for the first Page playoff 1 vs 2 game alive.
It was a huge loss for Alberta – only their second of the tournament – as they could have secured that Friday night playoff spot with a win.
An interesting decision by Koe in the fourth end led to a key point: trailing 3-2 with hammer, Kevin chose a raise attempt for two rather than a draw for one. He managed to make contact with Fowler’s shot stone but jammed it onto his own in the back twelve, and surrendered the steal. This was an unfortunate break and a justifiable decision, at least mathematically. If Kevin expects to make contact at least 70 per cent of the time (and I suspect the reality is closer to 80 per cent) – even if he only gets a deuce 20 per cent of the time, his chances to win are the same as a draw for one, assuming he makes the draw – we’ve seen a few of those missed this week.
Unlike almost a quarter of the women’s field at the Tournament of Hearts, Alberta third Pat Simmons seems to be, thus far, the only Brier competitor to be really smacked by the flu. Just minutes after my exploration of Brier fifth men was published, it appears that Alberta alternate Blake MacDonald might be needed for more than the typical coaching and housekeeping chores. We shall watch and see.
Let’s look at the possibilities for today, Thursday, the big climax of the round-robin... and the potential tiebreakers...
- Ontario has qualified for the 1-2 game, making Howard the No. 1 or 2 guy in five of the last seven Brier RRs.
- Koe can secure top spot with two wins today or can drop to as far as a tiebreaker with two losses.
- Two wins by Manitoba today, combined with a loss by AB, will give MB second place. Two Ls could mean they’re out.
- Jamie Koe (TER) has had some recent problems. Two wins and he’s in, one loss and his squad need some help.
- Northern Ontario is currently tied with the Territories boys at 5-4. Two wins gets them into at least a tiebreaker.
- New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and B.C. (five losses) all need to win their games and also get some help from Manitoba.
- Saskatchewan can play spoiler. Their last games are against Manitoba and Northern Ontario.
- NL, Quebec and PEI will battle Sask to see who would be demoted next year – if they change the Brier format.
That’s right – relegation. If you’re a Canadian curling follower you’ve been hearing about this since the fall, and if you read The Curling News you learned all about relegation in action at the Canadian Mixed, which was played at Sudbury back in November. There’s talk at this event of possible additions to the Brier field, which would require relegation for the bottom two provinces. A team from Nunavut would be added, plus the infamous Team Canada as found in the women’s Tournament of Hearts, while the Territories would be split into two teams, Northwest Territories and Yukon.
With 14 teams in play, speculation says there would be a new Brier pre-event or qualifier featuring a four-team playoff to see which two provinces/territories becomes part of the traditional 12-team round robin. The losers would then get to hang around and watch curling all week – what fun! Needless to say, this plan makes no sense for any number of reasons although, as a fair representation of the strange and politically correct Dominion of Canada, the concept seems to fit. Sort of, or somehow.
In my opinion, giving a berth to the defending champion, aka Team Canada, just plain stinks. It undermines the traditional concept of winning your province, it gives the winner an unfair advantage over their Brier competitors and, dammit, it just doesn’t feel right. Team Canada has won the women’s STOH 30 per cent of the time since they started this nonsense, and six times in the last 11 years. Somewhere, someone is looking at a marketing plan to ensure that an extra Kevin Martin, Howard or Jeff Stoughton gets on Brier TV every year, but at what point is the sport considered above the dollar? (Hasn’t curling’s soul already been sold to television? Might as well sell out straight to the green, they might make more money that way –Ed.)
Okay, rant over – back to this Brier.
Like any fan, I’m hoping for a few tiebreakers to make Friday interesting. I only hope they don’t use the classic technique deployed during the 1992 Tournament of Hearts. Some may recall that a three-way tie was broken by each skip pulling a number out of the buttocks bottom of a stuffed Scotties puppet (the mascot). Team Canada, skipped by British Columbia’s Julie Sutton, was awarded a bye to the final thanks to her adept veterinary skills... another great marketing idea from many years ago.
As the Brier tension mounts, my stomach is churning – from too many media donuts plus a lack of vegetables. Only two more days (for me) and it’s time for the Post-Brier Cleanse, with wine and fruit in replace of beer and poutine. I can already see the pounds falling off.