Glenn Howard was simply the “Great One” at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre in Brantford, Ont., on Sunday.
The four-time Brier and world champion came through in the clutch with a pair of spectacular shots in the final end to defeat John Epping 6-5 and win the Recharge with Milk Ontario Men’s Tankard title.
And what it a story it was for the 53-year-old Howard beginning before the provincial championship even got underway.
First his team lost vice skip Wayne Middaugh, who sustained a broken leg during a skiing accident last month. Howard had to reach into the spare pool at the Tankard with Adam Spencer filling in at second. Richard Hart moved up to third, but he too was banged up playing through nagging injuries.
Then there's Scott Howard, who joined his father's team this season to play lead. Glenn also had former teammate Craig Savill on the mind. Savill is battling cancer and Howard wore a purple ribbon with the No. 27 during the event for support.
Few would have predicted Team Howard flying out of the gate and running through the round-robin table with an unblemished 10-0 record. A loss to Epping in the 1 vs. 2 page playoff proved to be just a blip on the radar. They charged back to beat Mike Harris in the semifinal and edged Epping in the rematch.
The Tiny, Ont., native Howard returns to the Tim Hortons Brier for a 16th time in his career, but among all his provincial championships there probably isn't another one quite like this.
1st End: The winning shot
Mental note for December: Remember Howard's shot of the year candidate to win the Ontario Tankard for "Best of 2016" recaps.
Howard made a double takeout with his first skip stone in the 10th end that left Epping with few options and then followed that up with this game-winning double raise tap to score two for the win.
2nd End: Credit to Epping
It's tough to see John Epping fall in the Ontario final for the second year in a row.
Team Epping were on a hot streak entering the event, posting perfect records to win the Meridian Canadian Open and U.S. Open of Curling titles, but Howard had an incredible week to come out on top.
It's easy to forget this is only Team Epping's second season together and third Mat Camm just joined the crew last year. They've established amazing chemistry already and came oh-so-close to winning.
Team Epping's season is far from over as they'll be playing all the way to late April (and possibly into May) at the Champions Cup.
3rd End: Spencer the super spare
Full credit to Adam Spencer for having the difficult task of joining Team Howard as a spare during provincial playdowns. We saw several teams struggle to click together with new teammates last season to kick off the new Olympic cycle, yet, here was Spencer jumping in at the last minute and pretty much didn't miss a beat.
Spencer now heads to the Brier for the first time in his career and it's well deserved trip.
4th End: A sub in the broadcast booth
As Team Howard dipped into the spare player pool, the broadcast team also reached into the spare commentator pool.
Regular analyst Mike Harris turned back the clock with his curling team to make the semifinal and Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling emcee Peter Steski got the call to fill in on the broadcast crew.
Steski doesn't pull any punches during his player introductions at the GSOC events and was able to provide insightful analysis and anecdotes from his years as a player. Of course there were his usual hilarious chirps enjoyed by everyone not named Nolan Thiessen.
5th End: Three in a row for Laycock
Saskatoon's Steve Laycock captured his third consecutive SaskTel Tankard title Sunday.
The team of Laycock, third Kirk Muyres, second Colton Flasch, and lead Dallan Muyres are bound for the Brier again and look to improve on their bronze-medal performance from last year.
Meanwhile, Mike Kennedy will represent New Brunswick following a perfect 8-0 run through the Pepsi Tankard as the Brier field is just about complete.
6th End: Brier field almost set
Only four playdowns remain to round out the Tim Hortons Brier lineup with Alberta, B.C., Manitoba and Northern Ontario beginning their championships Wednesday.
The Brier runs March 5-13 in Ottawa. Watch the Alberta, B.C. and Manitoba men's playoffs live on Sportsnet, click here for the TV schedule.
|Alberta||Playdowns: Feb. 10-14|
|BC||Playdowns: Feb. 10-14|
|Manitoba||Playdowns: Feb. 10-14|
|New Brunswick||Mike Kennedy|
|Newfoundland & Labrador||Brad Gushue|
|Northern Ontario||Playdowns: Feb. 10-14|
|Northwest Territories||Jamie Koe|
|Nova Scotia||Jamie Murphy|
Pre-qualifying round: NWT, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, and Yukon.
7th End: U.S. nationals underway
The U.S. men's and women's national curling championships have started in Jacksonville, Fla., with the finals set for Saturday.
An extra incentive for this year's winners is they will receive invites to the season-ending Champions Cup event.
8th End: Pinty's GSOC updates
The conclusion of provincial playdowns Sunday marks the cutoff date for the next Pinty's Grand Slam of Curling event, the Elite 10.
Only the top 10 men's teams on the World Curling Tour's year-to-date order of merit receive invites. Team Howard currently sits in 10th place in the rankings, but winning the Ontario Tankard should give them a comfortable cushion.
In case you missed it, the Pinty's GSOC announced the WCT event winners eligible for spots at the Champions Cup. Click here to see the list of teams who earned those berths plus a full list of who has already booked their trips to the season finale in Sherwood Park, Alta.