Howard prepare for ‘surreal’ time

The lights were about to be turned off and the spectators at the St. Jakobshalle were long gone.

BASEL, Switzerland — The lights were about to be turned off and the spectators at the St. Jakobshalle were long gone.

Canadian team alternate Scott Howard was still hard at work, throwing rocks down the sheet and soaking up every valuable minute of late-night practice time. He needs to be ready just in case his father — skip Glenn Howard — gives him the nod to make his world men’s curling championship debut.

“It’s surreal for me. I can’t believe it,” Glenn said. “My first world championship was 25 years ago and he wasn’t even born.”

Scott, 21, has watched the action this week from the front row on the coaches’ bench. His father has started off strong, posting two more victories Monday to remain in a first-place tie with Sweden at 5-0.

Canada beat Norway’s Thomas Ulsrud 8-3 in the morning draw and followed it up with a 9-3 win over Jiri Snitil of the Czech Republic in the evening.

Scott’s primary role is to help his teammates during the tournament. He sets up the brooms, fills the water bottles and lugs equipment bags around.

Howard is also the lone reliever on the squad and needs to be prepared. He’s been called into action before.

Scott was an alternate for the Ontario rink at the Tim Hortons Brier the last two years. Glenn had him play a few ends last year in London, Ont., and Scott played last month in Saskatoon when teammate Craig Savill was ill.

Glenn, 49, has fond memories of his son’s debut at the national championship.

“I had goose bumps. I had a little bit of a tear in my eye,” he said. “Oh my God, my 20-year-old at the time is coming out at the Brier and throwing a rock. Are you kidding me? I had a moment there where I went, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’

“Then this year of course he comes in and had to play two games because Craig was sick and he played unbelievable.”

Scott was a finalist in the national junior championship last year and plays back home with John Epping’s rink, which holds the No. 7 position in the national rankings.

Glenn is trying to win the world championship for the fourth time. He was 24 when he won his first title as a third for his brother Russ, who now does curling broadcasting work.

“I loved playing with my brother,” Glenn said. “It was my dream just to play with him. We played 14 or 15 years together. And now the second generation is coming up.”

Wayne Middaugh joined the brothers as a second on the squad that won gold in 1993.

Howard teamed with Savill, Brent Laing and Richard Hart to win his third title in 2007. Middaugh joined the team prior to this season after Hart’s retirement.

The current foursome has carried over the momentum from a strong performance at the Brier last month.

“I sense the confidence is getting bigger and bigger,” Glenn said.

“I felt really comfortable out there again tonight. My guys are making everything underneath me.”

The Czech game was tighter than the result might suggest. Howard entered the ninth end with just a two-point lead and hit a nice double takeout to score four points to end it.

Howard’s team shot an impressive 91 per cent in both victories.

The Czechs provided a much stiffer test than the Norwegians. Ulsrud, the 2010 Olympic silver medallist, never got on track and made several uncharacteristic errors.

“We kept putting pressure on him and he was missing,” Howard said. “The recipe for a win.”

A back injury to skip Niklas Edin hasn’t hampered Sweden’s performance. Sebastian Kraupp has filled in nicely and guided the rink to a 10-8 win over France to keep pace with Canada.

Another medal favourite, Scotland’s Tom Brewster, was in third place along with the surprising Liu Rui of China at 4-1. Norway was one of four teams at 2-3.

After a slow opening weekend, attendance picked up Monday night with an estimated 1,800 spectators on hand at the 9,000-seat venue. The host Swiss team rewarded the fans with a 9-4 win over Germany to move into a four-way tie at 1-4.

Round-robin play continues through Thursday night and playoff games are scheduled for the weekend.

The younger Howard may not see any action this week but he’s enjoying the experience nonetheless. He’s thrilled just to be a part of the Canadian team.

“This event is extra special to me too because my Dad might not get back here again,” Scott said. “To be with him is so surreal.”

Glenn thinks his son has the skill set for success.

“He’s got a terrific demeanour,” he said. “He doesn’t get upset, he’s hard on himself, which I’m OK with. He’s a great team guy, everyone gets along with him. There’s a lot of talent there.”

Scott, a resident of Penetanguishene, Ont., is studying architecture technology on a part-time basis and hopes to graduate from college next year.

He’s also excited about his curling future.

“I think we have a team that could contend for 2014,” he said. “My big goal right now is the Olympics. I’m still young but 2018 is definitely in my mind right now as well.

“One day I’d love to be a Brier and a world champion just like my Dad.”