Scott Manners didn't feel like a longshot at the Canadian men's curling championship Saturday.
The grain farmer from Lloydminster, Sask., and his team opened the Tim Hortons Brier with an 8-4 win over Mike Gaudet of Prince Edward Island to the delight of the 10,021 at Credit Union Centre.
“I'm still trying to stay down (with) my feet on the ground here,” Manners told reporters following the game, still wound up by the vocal support for his team.
“A lot of support for Saskatchewan. Home-town favourite, right? Did you guys hear ‘mind your Manners out there?' because I heard it a bunch.”
Manners, third Tyler Lang, second Ryan Deis and lead Mike Armstrong out of the Battleford Curling Club all played the first Brier game of their careers.
The host province's representatives were unheralded and unknown coming into the tournament compared to headliners and former champions Glenn Howard of Ontario and Kevin Koe of Alberta.
But as Amber Holland's team discovered when they won the Canadian women's curling championship last year, the province emotionally invests in their teams and athletes. More cheers than gasps followed Saskatchewan's shots in the opening win.
Manners, 39, was kept busy signing autographs following the game. Since Saskatchewan's game was the one most people came to see, the seats emptied even though Manitoba and Quebec were locked in an extra-end battle.
“I've been signing autographs since we won the province,” Manners said. “First set with the crowd here.”
Ontario's Howard, Quebec's Robert Desjardins and Nova Scotia's Jamie Murphy were also victorious in the opening draw.
Howard was a finalist five of the last six years and won it in 2007. He scraped out a 6-5 win over New Brunswick's Terry Odishaw.
“We had control all the way through, but not until my last rock stopped were we going to win,” Howard said. “All good. It's a 'W.“’
Desjardins is skipping Quebec at the Brier for the first time, although he played third for Francois Gagne last year in London, Ont. Desjardins' draw to the four-foot rings ensured a 7-6 win in an extra end over Manitoba's Rob Fowler.
“It shows what Quebec is made of,” Desjardins said.
Nova Scotia's Murphy scored five points in the fourth end en route to a 9-5 win over Jamie Koe of Yukon/Northwest Territories.
The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin Thursday advance to the Page playoff and any ties for fourth are solved by tiebreaker games.
The last Saskatchewan team to win the Brier was Rick Folk in 1980, which is a 31-year drought. Manners said he went to the hotel weight room for a workout Saturday morning to get rid of nervous energy.
“I really needed to be level-headed out there, so mission accomplished today,” he said.
The Saskatchewan skip's head was on a swivel during the opening ceremonies, soaking up the crowd's adulation when his team was introduced.
“That's about as calm as I could stay,” Manners said. “It's good to look around. Why not look at the crowd? I'm here all week. They're here all week, so let's get to know each other.”
Also Saturday, Ontario third Wayne Middaugh and lead Craig Savill were finalists in the Fort Hot Shots sharpshooting contest in the morning. Middaugh won a two-year lease on a car, while Savill earned $2,000 as runner-up.
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