Unbeatable?

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BRANTFORD – Is Team Glenn Howard unbeatable?

That’s the question many are asking these days, as the defending world curling champions relentlessly cash in across the country. Their 2007 Brier performance and, particularly, their utter domination of the Edmonton worlds is widely regarded as one of, if not the, finest week-long, wall-to-wall performance in the history of the sport.

The squad ranked number one for the second year in a row by The BDO Black Book of Curling is, however, technically beatable.

In the first spiel of the year, Sarnia’s Peter Steski had them by the scruff of the neck in a final qualifying match, only to let them slip away for the win. Howard went on to win the Shorty Jenkins Classic.

A few weeks later, they failed to win the Don Bartlett Classic in Gander (they always seem to win the Don Bartlett Classic in Gander).

Just over a week ago, they upended a stellar field – including Kevin Martin – in Lloydminster all the way to the final, where they lost to Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton.

And yesterday, they had their hands full with a streaking Greg Balsdon in the semi-final of the McDonald’s Classic in Brantford, and had to steal the last end. The final then went only four ends, as Team Howard crushed London’s Kirk Ziola 9-1.

So, yes, they are beatable. But the most consistent team of the past eight years or so – going back to the first time Howard, Richard Hart and the Mitchell brothers teamed up – just seems to be getting stronger, and are obviously better tuned in to “the big game.” And that news is all bad for the Martins and Ferbeys of the world.

Scott Arnold is Canada’s National Team Program Consultant – he also coached Team Reddick/Rizzo into the 2005 Olympic Trials – who had his eyes on the world champs over the weekend.

“When you’re watching them, their half-shots are actually three-quarter shots,” Arnold observed. “A miss can cause some teams some degree of harm, but it doesn’t seem to harm (Howard), from what I can see.

“They’re just so confident in each other and the team as a whole, I don’t think any other teams are like that right now. If you get these guys on good ice, they don’t know how to miss.”

Last season, it was the white belts. Maybe this time... it’s the moustaches?

Arnold says there is only one other instance this season where he’s personally observed a team in that kind of zone. And it was at a women’s Tour event, in London.

“Rachel Homan’s team,” said Arnold. “I couldn’t believe her team played that way.”

Elsewhere:

• Balsdon lost his first two games and faced elimination before reeling off five wins in a row, including a 9-4 pounding of Brad Gushue in the quarter-final. As mentioned, his Guelph foursome continued the show against Howard, falling to a steal in the final frame.

Balsdon is ranked 29th in the world by the BDO Black Book, with this comment: “Greg Balsdon is one of the few skips in Ontario who has beaten both Glenn Howard and Wayne Middaugh with even some degree of regularity.”

• Brantford’s final four resembled last year’s Ontario provincial, where Howard and Balsdon finished in the top four. It also resembled a provincial from the 1990s, which saw semi-finalist Phil Daniel lose three finals, and even resembled one as far back as 1991 – where Russ and Glenn Howard defeated Ziola in the final ...

• You may have noticed Team Howard’s commitment to Movember continues. Tour observers are trying to decide which curler has has the best moustache, and Richard Hart – sporting a Mexican Bandito – is a top vote-getter.

In second place but closing fast is Peter Steski, whose classic Mutton Chop looks like a cross between pro wrestler Hulk Hogan and Motörhead leader Lemmy Kilmister ...

• Moments ago, St. John’s, Newfoundland was formally announced as host for the Tylenol Players’ Championship - the eighth and final leg of the Capital One Grand Slam of Curling series - running April 16-20, 2008 at Mile One Centre.

Five-day ticket packages for the TPC, which features both the top men’s and women’s teams in Canada, are now officially on sale, both online and through the Mile One Centre box office ...

• The 2007 Pacific Championships are underway in Beijing, with the top two teams (both men and women) qualifying their countries for the Ford World Women’s in Vernon and the Men’s Worlds in Grand Forks ...

• Tonight marks the latest inductions into the CBC Sports Hall of Fame, and while CBC curling host Scott Russellspotlights the talking heads, we note that the late Joan Mead, CBC’s pioneering curling producer, is also among the honourees ...

• Thursday night marks the first fundraising event to help rebuild the razed Windsor Curling Club in Nova Scotia: a concert ...

• Speaking of fundraising, Portage (in Wisconsin, not Manitoba) raised US$11,000 to fight cancer ...

• Kelly Scott took home an enormous $16,000 cheque last night, which keeps her in first place in The Curling News Top 15. Chief rival Jennifer Jones won her first couple of games but then lost three in a row to finish out of the money ...

• Have you heard the news? Canada will pay a performance bonus of up to $20,000 to Olympic medallists – including curlers. Each. There is also funding available in non-Olympic years for a top five or top four finish, to the tune of about $5,000 per athlete.

“This will be well-received by the athletes but also by the fans, I would think,” said Kevin Martin, who would have scored $15,000 for his Olympic silver in 2002.

“Most people, I believe, think the athletes are not supported as well as they could be… particularly when a top athlete could be spending 40-50 hours a week at their sport.”

For more on this story – plus more from Martin and Gushue – consult the upcoming December issue of The Curling News, on press just 24 hours from now ...

• The new Swiss men’s champions skipped by Adelboden’s Toni Müller – they upset an injury-ravaged Ralph Stöckli in the final of a four-team playoff a few weeks ago – are off to the Le Gruyère European Championships in just 10 days, and they are inviting websurfers to vote on their final results.

Check out their nifty blog and look for Welchen Platz erreichen wir an der EM? down the right-hand menu ...

• Pfeif recently played roadie to this crazed Florida hockey fan, whose attempted explanation of our other ice sport has to be seen to be believed ...

• Remember Kirsan Ilyumzhinov? Now he’s threatening to sue ...

• Finally, are bored at your workdesk? Blocked from surfing CurlingZone, Facebook and CurlTV? This thing should provide some amusement... for a couple of minutes, anyway ...