Glenn Howard says he is still surprising himself late in his distinguished career.
Howard won his eighth consecutive men’s Ontario provincial curling title Sunday thanks to a 7-5 victory over Joe Frans.
Howard’s rink from Coldwater, Ont., the defending Brier and world champions, beat Frans’ team from Holland Marsh, Ont., for the second consecutive day after losing to him in the round robin.
It was also the second straight year that Howard triumphed over Frans in the final, after Frans threw second for Peter Corner’s runner-up rink in 2012.
“The later in my career, the harder it is to win,” Howard said. “Lo and behold, we’ve won eight in a row.
“I don’t know how this keeps happening, but we’re just going to ride it.”
With the victory, Howard will once again represent Ontario at the Brier, which goes next month in Edmonton.
Frans, who didn’t have the hammer in the 10th end, had his last shot to deflect off another of his stones, leaving the two of them alongside Howard’s rock in the four foot.
Howard blasted one of Frans’ rock out of the way but also lost his shooter, requiring a measurement that would go his way.
“If (Frans) had made the perfect shot on his last one, I’d have to pick one out and let him score one and go to extra ends,” Howard said.
“Luckily, he didn’t make it perfect, and I just had to nose it in.”
Down in the ninth end without the hammer, Frans stole one to bring the score to 6-5.
The draw to the four foot by Frans got the attention of Howard’s last rock, leaving the back stone untouched.
“If we could have scored one there, we’d have been up three going home, but it might’ve over-curled a hair and (Frans) gets one,” Howard said.
“Next thing you know, it’s a great finish.”
Frans began reducing a 6-3 deficit in the eighth end, but could only manage a single point with the hammer, knocking Howard’s stone just enough out of the way to score one.
The sixth end was scoreless and it looked as though the seventh would go the same route, as each the players knocked out each other’s rocks.
But Frans would miss a stone completely on his first attempt, which set Howard up nicely for two.
He would convert, giving the rink of Howard, Wayne Middaugh, Brent Laing and Craig Savill a 6-3 cushion after seven ends.
Frans had the hammer in the fifth end, and some good positioning gave him a relatively simple draw for two, pulling his rink to within one.
The fourth end appeared to be up for grabs until Howard took over.
After Frans played his stone just into the house, primarily to use it as a guard, Howard was left with last rock, lying one.
Instead of attempting to draw around the traffic, Howard went head on, blasting the stone out of play, but not before eliminating Frans’ rock at the back of the four foot.
With both of Howard’s original stones still there alongside the shooter, he scored three for a 4-1 lead.
“I knew that if I hit it right on the nose, we’d get two for sure,” Howard said. “It didn’t squirt too far and we got our three.”
Howard looked to have an opportunity to put up multiple points in the third end, lying two and with the hammer.
But Frans coolly executed a double takeout, forcing Howard to just clear the remaining stone for a scoreless end.
Both rinks put up singles with the hammer to start the final.
Other rinks that qualified for the Brier on Sunday:
At Leduc, Alta., Edmonton’s Kevin Martin won his record 12th Alberta championship, beating defending champion Kevin Koe of Calgary 5-4 in the final at Leduc.
Martin will attempt to be the first player to skip five Brier champions; he currently shares the record of four with fellow Albertan Randy Ferbey and Saskatchewan’s Ernie Richardson.
At Parksville, B.C., Andrew Bilesky earned his first Brier Purple Heart, beating former world champion and fellow New Westminster, B.C., curler Brent Pierce 7-4.
At Neepawa, Man., two-time world champion Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg won his 10th trip to the Brier with a 7-4 win over Sean Grassie, also from Winnipeg, 7-4 in the championship final.
Stoughton will be taking aim at his fourth Brier championship.
At St. John’s, N.L., 2006 Olympic gold-medallist Brad Gushue defeated Colin Thomas 8-2 in a battle between two local rinks.
It will be Gushue’s 10th trip to the Tim Hortons Brier.
At Nipigon, Ont., Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., clinched his fourth consecutive Northern Ontario title and seventh Brier berth with a 6-5 extra end win over Robbie Gordon of Sudbury, Ont.
At Truro, N.S., Paul Flemming from Lower Sackville, N.S., qualified for his sixth Brier by scoring one in the 10th end for an 8-7 win over defending champ Jamie Murphy, also from the Lakeshore Club in Lower Sackville.
Prince Edward Island
At Crapaud, P.E.I., weather issues delayed the conclusion of the P.E.I. Tankard.