The hometown team is in real danger of not making the playoffs at the Canadian men’s curling championship.
Alberta’s Kevin Martin, one of the three pre-tournament favourites at the Tim Hortons Brier, suffered a fourth defeat Tuesday afternoon.
A 6-5 loss to New Brunswick’s James Grattan put the Olympic and four-time Canadian champion in an precarious position with three days remaining in the round robin.
“It’s just been a disaster,” Alberta third John Morris said.
Although Alberta recovered to thrash Nova Scotia 9-3 on Tuesday night, Martin has zero wiggle room with a 2-4 record.
The top four teams at the conclusion of the preliminary round Friday get into the Page playoff. Ties for fourth will be solved by tiebreaker games.
Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador and defending champion Glenn Howard of Ontario topped the standings at 6-0 ahead of Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard and Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton together at 5-1.
“I don’t want to say we can afford a couple of losses, but if they do happen, it’s not the end of the world,” Gushue said. “It’s going to allow us to go a little more relaxed into the last couple of games, hopefully not too relaxed.”
Howard beat Brad Jacobs 8-2, which was a second straight loss for Northern Ontario at 4-2.
“Ecstatic, the fact that we’ve gone 6-0,” Howard said. “Even better is the fact my guys are making everything.”
Grattan and Jamie Koe of the Territories were 3-3 followed by Alberta and Saskatchewan’s Brock Virtue at 2-4. Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming, B.C.’s Andrew Bilesky and Prince Edward Island’s Eddie MacKenzie were winless in six games.
Martin, Howard and Stoughton are considered the three heavyweights at this Brier. Martin’s team out of the Edmonton Saville Centre finishes the round robin Friday night against defending champion Howard.
The hosts must win out and will likely need losses from other teams to continue playing into the weekend. When asked what he believed his playoff chances were following the loss to New Brunswick, Martin blurted out “Dead.”
The faces of Martin, Morris and front end Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert were stoney as they left the playing surface.
The four men won Olympic gold together at the 2010 Winter Games. They went undefeated in the round robin of both the 2008 and 2009 Canadian championships en route to the title.
“For the four of us, losing is not usually in our vocabulary,” Morris said. “We’re trying as hard as we can. I promise you that. I don’t know how to put my finger on it.”
They’ve been out of sync in Edmonton since the start of the tournament. Morris was outcurled 94 per cent to 84 per cent by New Brunswick counterpart James Roach on Tuesday.
Martin’s frustration about some of the shots his teammates have left him was becoming more evident Tuesday.
“I felt good the whole game. Just a lot of tough shots,” Martin said. “It’s been like that the whole time.
“We had a million easy chances. A whole lot of untimely misses.”
Martin has missed the playoffs just once in his previous 11 appearances at the Brier and that was in 2000.
The Edmonton host committee will be disappointed if the Martin team is eliminated early, but the skip says they’re not feeling extra pressure.
“I’d be very frustrated if we were in Hamilton or Saskatoon or Montreal,” the skip said.
Martin and several curlers have complained about rogue rocks in certain sets. Grattan suggested the Martin team let that get into their heads.
“There’s quite a few bad ones, don’t get me wrong,” Grattan said. “Mentally, you’ve got to go out there and accept that and play the game that’s there in front of you.
“Sometimes I think when they’re not playing well, they get frustrated with rocks. They get frustrated with everything else and everything becomes a lot bigger than it is.”