Different houses from across Canada fight each winter for the right to wear the red and white robes of victory. They battle not on vast plains stained red with blood but on thin sheets of painted ice. They wield brooms in lieu of broadswords and shoot rocks instead of arrows. They are the curlers of the Tim Horton’s Brier, and they are the best in the world.
On Mar. 11, skip Glenn Howard, that genius general of the pebbled ice, led Team Ontario to Brier victory. House Howard beat House Koe of Alberta 6-5 and, throughout the tournament, Howard seemed to know the ice’s every nuance and to understand its every subtlety.
His hair gray and thinning, he commanded his team of younger, stronger men with quiet authority. While the underlings did not agree with his every call, they understood the necessity of obedience and discipline. They trusted his leadership unflinchingly.
In the same way, Howard knew that even the soundest of his commands were for naught if his teammates and himself failed in execution.
Before this year, House Howard, a perennial favourite, had failed to achieve glory on the national stage. His last – and, until recently, only – Brier victory was in 2007.
This was due in large part to Howard’s inability to defeat Kevin Martin and his team of Albertan sharpshooters. Team Alberta has always appeared just one notch above Team Ontario. Their front end looks stronger, their third looks calmer, and Martin always seems to make that one shot no one else can even think of.
Martin knocked Howard out of the playoffs in the 2008 and 2009 Briers, going on to win the prized Tankard on both occasions. He also beat Howard in the 2009 Olympic Trial finals with the resounding score of 7-3. He went on to win Olympic gold for Canada in Vancouver.
The tides appear to be turned in Canada’s curling kingdom, the power shifted. After not competing in the 2010 Brier because of the Olympics, Howard ousted Martin in the 2011 semi-finals. This year, Martin failed to qualify for the Brier, losing out to this year’s finalist Kevin Koe in the provincial qualifiers. Perhaps Martin became too comfortable atop the curling throne and forgot about his competitors.
Will House Howard continue their reign over Canada’s ice sheets? Will the power shift hold? I contend, no.
Martin is too good and too competitive. When power is really on the line and he takes his place in the hack there is no doubt in his stare. He will make the shot.
Right now, Martin is simply biding his time as Howard gains a false sense of security. He and his team celebrating in their trendy white belts, so Torontonian while Martin broods and plans in the Albertan badlands.
When will Martin make his move, you ask? The 2013 Olympic Trials in Winnipeg. The Trials’ winner goes to the curling world’s biggest stage, the Olympics. It will be a showdown for the ages. House Martin v. House Howard in this the Game of Stones.
Photo by Resolute/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS