Glenn Howard has hit the sweet spot in his curling career.
The oldest player in the 2013 Tim Hortons Brier at 50 combines experience few possess with the skill his brother Russ says he’s always had, plus some of the best position players in the game as teammates.
Howard, third Wayne Middaugh, second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill open the Canadian men’s curling championship Saturday at Rexall Place as defending champions and Ontario’s representative.
Howard will play in his 15th Brier this year, which is more than any curler in tournament history. He’ll pass the previous record of 14 held by RuNatiss, who was Glenn’s skip for their first seven Canadian championships.
Glenn played in his first Brier in 1986 and won his first title playing third for Russ the following year when it coincidentally was held in Edmonton.
“I’m still flabbergasted, on a personal note, that I’ve gone that many times,” Howard says. “I surrounded myself with great curlers. It’s not just me. It’s because the other three players I’ve played with over the 30-some years I’ve been competing.
“I went to seven with my brother and then I had about a 12-year hiatus from getting back to the Brier and didn’t think it was ever going to happen again.”
But Howard, Laing and Savill are extending their run of representing Ontario at the Brier to eight straight years. They’ve won the Canadian title twice and also lost in the Brier final four times during that span.
Middaugh joined the team prior to last season when they won in Saskatoon and then went on to to capture the world championship.
“My first Brier win was ‘87 and my last was last year, 25 years difference,” Howard acknowledged. “I’m proud of the fact I’ve personally stayed competitive.
“The last seven or eight years has probably been some of the best curling I’ve done on a personal basis, but you’re only as good as your team. You can play great, but if you don’t have great guys behind you, it’s not going to happen.”
The Ontario foursome, Alberta’s Kevin Martin and Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton are co-favourites heading into 84th Canadian men’s curling championship. The host team of Martin, John Morris and front end Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert are the reigning Olympic champions. Stoughton is a three-time Brier winner.
Howard, Martin and Stoughton were also the first three teams to secure berths in December’s Olympic trials in Winnipeg.
The Brier’s first draw is Saturday afternoon, but the three headliners play their first games in the evening. Martin and Stoughton open the round-robin against each other, while Ontario faces B.C.’s Andrew Bilesky.
The top four teams at the conclusion of the preliminary round Friday advance to the Page playoff. The winner of the March 10 final represents Canada at the world championship March 20 to April 7 in Victoria.
The Howard brothers won a pair of Canadian championships during their seven years as teammates until Russ moved to New Brunswick and represented that province. Russ, now a television analyst, says his brother was always one of the best in the game.
“He’s kind of had three careers in my mind - vicing for me and I thought he was the best vice in the world. He had 10 years that he had to learn to be a skip and get a good team and then he’s had this run here, which is incredible,” Russ said.
“I would say he’s been very similar in ability right from ‘86 until now. Probably his best attribute is how consistent he’s been for so long.”
Glenn says working with a personal trainer for the last four years helped him maintain his skills.
“I think at age 50 you have no choice,” he says of his workouts. “I’ve been in the best shape now than I have been in 20 years. Because of that, I have fewer aches and pains and because of that I feel rejuvenated.”
Russ still has a curling bauble that his younger brother wants. Russ was on Brad Gushue’s team that won an Olympic gold medal in 2006. Glenn Howard wants to win the trials and represent Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“I think that’s big,” Savill said. “That’s the one thing he doesn’t have right now. I think it would mean more than anything to get to the Olympics. I think if he got to the Olympics I think that would just cap off his career nicely.”
Savill, 34, remembers rushing home from school during the 1990s to watch the Howard team on television compete the Brier.
“I still feel like a young guy and I can’t believe he’s the same guy I used to grow up watching,” the lead said. “He’s been playing this game at a high level for 30 years and he’s still tenacious and wants to go and play.
“He’s trying to add ‘spiels to our schedule and he’s the most upset when we lose. Once you lose that fire, you might as well get out of the game.”
First Draw, 3:30 p.m.
Northern Ontario vs. Northwest Territories/Yukon; New Brunswick vs. Quebec; Nova Scotia vs. Newfoundland & Labrador; Saskatchewan vs. Prince Edward Island.
Second Draw, 8:30 p.m.
Newfoundland & Labrador vs. Prince Edward Island; Alberta vs. Manitoba; Northwest Territories/Yukon vs. New Brunswick; Ontario vs. British Columbia.