In The Rings: Olympic Trials spots on the line at this week’s Canada Cup

Glenn Howard had a taste of the Olympic experience as a coach at last year’s Pyeongchang Games. He remains determined to get to the Winter Games as a player.

The veteran skip can move one step closer to getting there at this week’s Canada Cup in Leduc, Alta. The winning teams will lock up spots at the 2021 Olympic Trials, which will determine Canada’s four-player team representatives for the 2022 Beijing Games.

“I truly believe a lot of people have written me off thinking, ‘How could anybody at that age still compete and still play at the highest level or get to the Olympics?’ But I’m doing my best. I can still make shots and I’ve got a great team,” said Howard, who turned 57 in July. “The goal is obviously to try and get to those Olympic Trials. When you get to those Trials, it’s anybody’s ballgame.

“I don’t care if you’re the best team in the world or the 100th-best team in the world. If you’re there, you’ve got a shot.”

Howard will face stiff competition this week at Sobeys Arena. Defending champion Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., is one of the headliners in a field that includes Calgary’s Kevin Koe, Edmonton’s Brendan Bottcher, Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., Toronto’s John Epping and Matt Dunstone of Regina.

Defending champion Jennifer Jones of Winnipeg is in the seven-team women’s field. She’ll be joined by Calgary’s Chelsea Carey, Ottawa’s Rachel Homan, Robyn Silvernagle of North Battleford, Sask., Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., Tracy Fleury of East St. Paul, Man., and Casey Scheidegger’s team from Lethbridge, Alta.

“Any time you look at the field for a Canada Cup or an Olympic Trials, it’s daunting to look at because everybody is so good,” Carey said. “You know it’s going to be a battle all week for sure.”

Cheryl Bernard is filling in at skip for Scheidegger, who announced Tuesday she had given birth to a son named Ryker. Round-robin play begins Wednesday morning and the finals are set for Sunday.

Howard, from Penetanguishene, Ont., is 13th on the World Curling Tour’s men’s rankings list.

A four-time national and world champion, his lineup includes son Scott Howard at third along with second David Mathers and lead Tim March.

Howard juggled his team’s competitions with coaching duties for Eve Muirhead’s team from Scotland over the last three seasons. Muirhead reached the bronze-medal game last year at the Pyeongchang Olympics, but missed the podium after dropping a 5-3 decision to Japan.

“It was an experience of a lifetime,” Howard said of the Games. “I’m so glad I was able to get that.”

Howard can also devote more time to playing and training now that he’s retired from his day job as manager of The Beer Store in Midland, Ont. He spent 38 years with the company.

His team enters the Canada Cup with some momentum after a victory at the Stu Sells 1824 Halifax Classic, edging Scotland’s Bruce Mouat in the semis before topping Halifax’s Jamie Murphy in the final.

“I think we’re on track,” Howard said. “We’re pretty happy with the way we’re playing right now.”

The men’s and women’s champions at the Canada Cup will earn $40,000 per team and also lock up spots in the Jan. 9-12 Continental Cup in London, Ont.

There will be nine spots available in the men’s draw at the Olympic Trials — also known as the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings — in late 2021 at Saskatoon.

Next year’s Canada Cup winner will also get a spot, as will the winners of the next two national championships. Canadian ranking positions will be used to determine three entries and the Road to the Roar Pre-Trials qualifier will determine the last two spots.

“The quality of curling in Canada right now is unbelievable,” Howard said. “It’s just getting harder and harder (to get to the Olympics). But it’s not a pipe dream. I really believe that we can do it, that we can get there.

“This is the first chance to get to the Trials, so if we can rise to the occasion and play great this week, you never know.”

The same qualification setup will be used for the nine-team women’s field at the Trials. Koe and Homan were victorious at the 2017 Trials in Ottawa but neither team reached the Olympic podium.

———

TIGHT RACE

World No. 1 Team Epping is clinging to a very slim lead over Team Jacobs in the latest world men’s curling rankings.

Epping’s total of 488.479 leaves him less than one point ahead of Jacobs, who’s second at 487.783. Jacobs, however, has the slight edge on the year-to-date ranking (268.112 to Epping’s 265.290).

Einarson leads the women’s standings with 573.466 points. Sweden’s Anna Hasselborg is second (564.662) and Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni (537.651) is third.

Fleury, who’s fifth overall, owns top spot on the year-to-date list with 292.577 points. Einarson is next at 275.293.

———

In the Rings, a weekly curling notebook, is published every Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2019.

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