Brier Bits #2 – Surprises

Posted: March 9, 2011 in Curling, Sports
Tags: , , , ,

They say that the middle draws of the Brier are the boring ones.

The excitement of the opening day is gone, the top teams have been established, and the crowds are saving up their energy for the playoff push.  The midweek games often don’t feature the top teams against one another, with some notable exceptions, the organizers preferring to have such games take place either at the beginning or end of the round robin.

However, the midweek games – those that take place on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday – are often the source of many surprises.  And this year’s Brier has been no different.

Monday evening threw up what promised to be a cracker of a game between Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue and Alberta’s Kevin Martin.  Martin came into the game riding a 30-game Brier winning streak and boasting an undefeated record in this year’s tournament.  Gushue, a former Olympic champion in 2006, had dropped a game to British Columbia’s Jim Cotter in Draw 5.  Given Martin’s winning run, you might suppose that Gushue would have a hard time dethroning the Alberta rink from its spot atop the standings.

If you did suppose that, then you’d have been very, very wrong.  Martin missed a few relatively easy shots and made some bad decisions on the way to curling 69% and losing the game 9-4.  The loss is even more surprising given that the rest of the Alberta team curled at a collective 94%, enabling them to still out-percentage Gushue’s team despite Martin’s mishaps.  The performance really was a massive shock to the system, given that Kevin Martin is one of the most consistently ruthless skips out there.

But that’s not to say that Gushue’s team did not fully deserve their win.  As a collective, they curled 86% – which is quite good for any team – and they made the shots they needed to in order to run out to a 4-0 lead on the back of three stolen points in the second and third ends.

One of the principal players in Gushue’s victory was possibly-departing third Mark Nichols.  He missed a couple shots over the course of the game, but was always on hand to make the big shots when called upon.  Case in point: his duel with Ontario’s Richard Hart in the Tuesday afternoon draw was nothing short of spectacular.  The game was distinguished by the opening three ends being blanked.  One might consider that to be a boring game, but that the ends were blanked was down to some amazing shot-making by both Nichols and Hart.  The leads and seconds set up rocks in such a manner as to indicate a high-scoring end, and Nichols and Hart cleared them out two or three at a time.  It was simply shot-after-shot of curling brilliance.

Another surprise that came out of Tuesday’s afternoon draw was the performance of Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs and his heretofore relatively unknown rink of E.J. Harnden, Ryan Harnden, and Scott Seabrook.  Sure, they lost to Shawn Adams’ Nova Scotia rink by the score of 10-5, but they displayed enough pure talent and shot-making ability to indicate a very bright future.  In fact, in last year’s Brier, Jacobs’ rink went 9-2 in the round robin before losing consecutive playoff games to Glenn Howard and eventual champion Kevin Koe.

Jacobs and the Harnden brothers are all big, strong men that are capable of throwing the big weight and strong sweeping.  They also showed some nice touch with the softer weights, despite Jacobs being heavy with a couple last rock draws.  All in all the skills are there to be one of the top teams in the country for a long time.  If they can learn to manage a game better I wouldn’t be surprised if they became the first Northern Ontario rink since Al Hackner’s 1985 foursome of himself, Rick Lang, Ian Tetley, and Pat Perroud to lift the Brier Tankard.

These surprises build excitement for the final games of the round robin that take place on Thursday.  Can Martin keep it together for his last-draw showdown with Glenn Howard?  Can Gushue continue his run of good play and translate it into a first or second playoff berth?  Can Jacobs make a run from the outside and nab a playoff position?

These questions will all be answered on Thursday, but for now they give us a reason why we should keep watching.

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