Team Wild Card Three alternate Wayne Middaugh makes a shot as he plays Team Saskatchewan at the Brier in Calgary, Alta., Friday, March 12, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Middaugh leads championship pool at the Brier

Middaugh leads championship pool at the Brier

CALGARY — Craig Savill recalls a mantra that Wayne Middaugh followed back when they were teammates.

“He always said, ‘The round robin is for practising. The playoffs are for real.’”

It’s a line that should make other teams shudder at the Canadian men’s curling championship.

Middaugh was one of the top skips in the preliminary round at the Tim Hortons Brier and isn’t letting up now that the championship pool is underway. He guided Wild Card Three to a 9-5 victory over Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone on Friday afternoon at the Markin MacPhail Centre.

The result left the veteran skip in sole possession of first place at 8-1 and made him a good bet to make the three-team playoff cut on Sunday.

“You try and exceed your own expectations every day and we’ve done that so far,” Middaugh said. “Just the thought of Sunday is still two days away for us. We’re just going to try to get through today.”

Wild Card Two’s Kevin Koe and Alberta’s Brendan Bottcher were next at 7-2. Bottcher needed an extra end to complete an 8-7 victory.

In the other afternoon games, Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs defeated Canada’s Brad Gushue 7-2 and Manitoba’s Jason Gunnlaugson edged Ontario’s John Epping 7-6. Those rinks joined Dunstone in a five-team logjam at 6-3.

“We’ve put ourselves in a spot where every game is a must-win to stay in the tournament,” said Manitoba second Matt Wozniak. “I’m sure it’s going to get bunched up … but we’ve just got to win every game. That’s all we’re focused on right now.”

Middaugh, meanwhile, never trailed after scoring four points in the third end. Dunstone flashed his final throw in the 10th to give Middaugh a steal of two and the victory.

Middaugh, a three-time Tim Hortons Brier champion, is making his competitive return at the WinSport Arena after a five-year absence. He’s filling in for injured skip Glenn Howard on the Ontario-based team.

“With the leadership of Glenn Howard, this team has embraced our roles,” Middaugh said. “We’re doing everything we can and we’re staying right with (the others).”

Another draw was scheduled for Friday night. Championship pool play continues through Saturday evening.

The top three teams will advance to Sunday’s playoffs. The second- and third-place teams will meet in an afternoon semifinal with the winner facing the top seed in the evening final.

Savill won Brier and world titles in 2012 on a team with Middaugh, second Brent Laing and Howard at skip. He recalled that Middaugh would sometimes take a few games to find his rhythm and would always bring his game up when it counted.

“What’s scary is Wayne is already playing really well and he’s only going to get better as this weekend goes on,” Savill said.

Middaugh is making his first Brier appearance since 2013. He was inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame last year.

The 53-year-old native of Victoria Harbour, Ont., underwent surgery to repair a broken leg after a ski crash in early 2016. Middaugh, who had a titanium rod inserted into the leg, thought his competitive curling career was over.

He moved into coaching a few years ago and still plays a weekly game with Howard and their wives at the local league level.

Middaugh originally planned to serve as an alternate at the Brier. He switched roles with Howard after the veteran skip suffered a variety of injuries in a recent snowmobile crash.

The experienced Middaugh hasn’t missed a beat. His ice-reading skills remain superior, his trademark competitive spirit never left and he’s delivering quality shots at will.

His presence also seems to have raised the play of third Scott Howard, second David Mathers and lead Tim March.

Middaugh threw at 91 per cent Friday afternoon and was the low man on the team, which shot 94 per cent overall.

Making the rink all the more dangerous is there’s little pressure given that they were not expected to be in the mix on the final weekend.

So how does it feel playing with so-called house money?

“We’re the wild card baby,” Middaugh said with a smile.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 12, 2021.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

The Canadian Press


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Ethan Rowland battles with Medicine Hat Tigers forward Brett Kemp during WHL action at the Centrium Saturday night. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers claw back, hand Rebels 11th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 The same old issues continue to plague the… Continue reading

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
AstraZeneca vaccine is ready to be used at a homeless shelter in Romford, east London, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Frank Augstein
AstraZeneca-linked blood clot confirmed in Alberta

A case of an AstraZeneca-linked blood clot has been confirmed in Alberta,… Continue reading

The Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools Board of Trustees selected the name St. Lorenzo Ruiz Middle School to be built in the north end of Red Deer. (Photo Courtesy of  Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools)
Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raises about $8,720 for Terry Fox Foundation

Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools raised about $8,720 for the Terry Fox… Continue reading

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Ontario Premier Doug Ford points on a COVID-19 caseload projection model graph during a press conference at Queen's Park, in Toronto, Friday, April 16, 2021. Ontario was set to backtrack on controversial new police powers to enforce stay-at-home orders implemented in the battle against COVID-19.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ford backtracks on new police COVID-19 powers amid intense backlash

TORONTO — Furious criticism of new anti-pandemic powers that allow police in… Continue reading

The official program for the National Commemorative Ceremony in honour of Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, sits on an empty pew prior to the ceremony at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa on Saturday, April 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prince Philip remembered as ‘a man of great service’ during Canada’s memorial service

Canada’s commemorative ceremony in honour of the late Prince Philip offered a… Continue reading

CF Montreal head coach Wilfried Nancy speaks to his players during the team's practice Tuesday, March 16, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
CF Montreal puts on a show, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in MLS season opener

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — CF Montreal, carving open Toronto FC’s defence, cruised… Continue reading

Demonstrators using umbrellas as shields approach a point in a perimeter security fence during a protest over the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during traffic stop, outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Friday, April 16, 2021, in Brooklyn Center, Minn. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Journalists allege police harassment at Minnesota protests

Some journalists covering protests over the police fatal shooting of Daunte Wright,… Continue reading

A container ship is docked in the Port of Montreal, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Montreal dockworkers begin weekend strikes as talks drag on

MONTREAL — Dockworkers at the Port of Montreal kicked off a series… Continue reading

Brad Dahr, 53, is facing numerous charges. (Photo contributed by Alberta RCMP)
Alberta man charged for alleged sexual offences against children

An Edmonton man has been charged for alleged sexual offences against children… Continue reading

A person walks past a COVID-19 mural designed by artist Emily May Rose on a rainy day during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Monday, April 12, 2021. Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off the job or coming into work while knowingly sick could warrant discipline in the workplace. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Risky pandemic behaviour off the clock could mean workplace discipline: lawyers

CALGARY — Employment lawyers say flouting COVID-19 public health orders when off… Continue reading

Vials containing Russia's Sputnik V vaccine for COVID-19 are seen at the San Marino State Hospital, in San Marino, Friday, April 9, 2021.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Antonio Calanni
China, Russia using their COVID-19 vaccines to gain political influence

OTTAWA — China and Russia have been using their locally produced COVID-19… Continue reading

Most Read