SASKATOON — The tournament heavyweights lived up to their billing at the Canadian men’s curling championship.
Ontario’s Glenn Howard and Alberta’s Kevin Koe, picked as pre-tournament favourites, will meet in Sunday’s final at the Tim Hortons Brier.
It’s a rematch of the final two years ago in Halifax, where Koe defeated Howard 6-5 in an extra end for the Canadian title.
“You can’t feel bad about that game,” Howard recalled Saturday. “Kevin Koe was a one-man wrecking crew. I shouldn’t say that. His team played great, but Kevin made some key shots down the stretch and that’s what wins you Briers.”
Koe’s Calgary team downed Manitoba’s Rob Fowler 8-6 in Saturday’s semifinal to advance.
Earlier, Alberta beat Kevin’s younger brother Jamie and his Yukon and Northwest Territories foursome 10-6 in a playoff between the third and fourth seeds.
When Koe won the championship two years, ago, he took a similar route by winning the three-four playoff game and the semifinal before facing Howard.
“It’s a great memory for us, probably not so for him,” Koe said.
Sunday’s victor represents Canada at the world men’s curling championship March 31 to April 8 in Basel, Switzerland.
Ontario topped the preliminary round 10-1 and Alberta was third at 8-3. Ontario hammered Manitoba 9-3 in Friday’s playoff game between the top two seeds.
Howard will appear in his 11th career Brier final — five as third for brother Russ and six as Ontario skip. He and front end Brent Laing and Craig Savill will play their sixth final in seven years, but their lone win was in 2007.
“Obviously we’ve lost a few finals,” Howard said. “Am I happy when we lose in the finals?
“Not at all. If we lose tomorrow, I’m not going to be very happy as well because we definitely want to win this one.”
Third Wayne Middaugh, who skipped Ontario to a title in 1998, joined Howard’s Coldwater Curling Club squad prior to this season.
Koe retained front end Carter Rycroft and Nolan Thiessen from his winning team two years ago.
Pat Simmons came on board at third prior to this season when Blake MacDonald stepped back from the sport.
“It’s a good challenge for us like it was in 2010,” Kevin said. “Our record against Glenn is not great for sure. I think it will be key for us to get off to a good start.
“Obviously they’re playing great this week, but if there’s a game they’ll be antsy about, it would be the final I’m sure.”
Simmons was diagnosed with a throat infection that’s steadily worsened throughout this tournament. He’s taking antibiotics for it, but suffered Saturday. He still managed to shoot 89 per cent against the Territories and 75 per cent versus Manitoba.
“I’m going to play until I can’t walk,” Simmons said. “Adrenalin is a great thing. It’s just it can only last so long. Hopefully it’s got one more day in it.”
A the team’s seconds provide an interesting matchup to watch Sunday. Rycroft topped the preliminary round at that position with 89 per cent shooting accuracy ahead of Laing at 87.
Alberta broke the semifinal against Manitoba open in the eighth end by scoring four for a 7-4 lead.
Fowler’s first stone of the end, an attempted takeout, appeared to change course en route to the target.
Koe played a split to lay four. Fowler’s attempted corner freeze was heavy and straight, allowing Koe an open hit for four.
“Our only consolation is we played our A-plus game tonight and we had a rotten break when we were hitting against two,” Fowler said. “It was just about to the spot where we would have the roll and it picked and missed everything.
“That’s a tough way to lose. You go out, play your heart out, play your best game and are really in a position to win the game. It evaporates that quick on you.”
Manitoba will play the Territories for the bronze medal Sunday morning.
The Canadian champion is eligible for $144,000 of Sport Canada funding over a two-year period as well as $40,000 from Own the Podium for training and competition expenses.
“The amount of time and money we put into this game, that funding is massive,” Howard said.
“You can take it and play a few more ’spiels. You can get some more training. We put it to good use.”
There’s also an automatic berth in the 2012 Canada Cup, at which an Olympic trials berth will be awarded to the winner.
The Brier champion is also named to the North American team in the 2013 Continental Cup of Curling, a competition against European and Asian teams.
Ontario and Manitoba get $40,000 in prize money as finalists.
The bronze medallist receives $30,000 and the fourth-place team $20,000.