EDMONTON — Defending champion Glenn Howard moved into the lead at the Canadian men’s curling championship as the only undefeated team left in the field.
His Ontario rink was unbeaten at 7-0 at the Tim Hortons Brier after Wednesday night’s draw.
“The best thing is that second number stays at zero,” Howard said.
With a 7-3 win over New Brunswick’s James Grattan, Howard’s team is working on a 17-game winning streak going back to last year’s Brier in Saskatoon. They went 10-1 there en route to the title with their lone loss to Jamie Koe of the Territories.
“When we’ve won games in the past, we’ve had to struggle to get them and sneak them out and manufacture ways to win,” Howard said.
“What I like here is we’ve really played solid all the way through, really haven’t been in trouble too many ends. When we have, we get out of them. We’re playing at a high level and seem to be keeping that momentum. The key is we have to keep it up. If we start to falter now, it’s not going to be good enough at the end.”
Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador lost his first game of the tournament — a 9-5 defeat at the hands of Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton — and was 7-1. Three-time Canadian champion Stoughton improved to 6-1.
The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin Friday night advance to the Page playoff. Ties for fourth are solved by tiebreaker games. While 7-4 has been good enough for playoffs or tiebreaker games some years, eight wins is considered safer playoff territory.
“We’ve still got to win a few games to guarantee us something,” Stoughton said.
Gushue’s young curling team made the most of a benevolent schedule for their first seven games, but their last four opponents in the round-robin are winners of at least one Canadian championship, if not multiple titles.
After the loss to Manitoba, Gushue’s St. John’s team faces Ontario on Thursday followed by four-time Canadian champion Kevin Martin and 2006 winner Jean-Michel Menard of Quebec on Friday.
“You always want to win the games you’re supposed to win and in the worst case, split the rest and see where you are at the end of it,” Gushue said.
The subplot of the game between Manitoba and Newfoundland was Stoughton’s lead Mark Nichols faced his former skip for the first time at a Brier.
Nichols, from Labrador City, was Gushue’s third at eight previous Canadian championships and also at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, where they won gold.
“It was different,” Nichols said. “The only different thing was not playing for Newfoundland, for me. My heart and soul is I’m a Newfoundlander. To me, it felt like it was intense. There were no words or jabs or talking or anything like that.”
Stoughton’s hit for four in the eighth end sealed the win for the Manitobans. Gushue slipped giving his final stone of the end an extra shove while attempting a hit against five with his final stone.
The skip got a shot away, but he left a lot of granite in the rings for Stoughton.