Howard versus Howard fell far short of a thriller at the Tim Hortons Brier, although Russ provided some fireworks and joined Glenn in some fun to end it.
Younger brother Glenn skipped Ontario to an easy 7-2 win over Russ’s New Brunswick rink Tuesday at the Canadian men’s curling championship.
Pre-tournament favourites Ontario and Alberta’s Kevin Martin began pulling away from the rest of the field with 7-0 records.
The meeting between Russ and Glenn was the first time the former teammates met at a Canadian men’s curling championship. It was a highly anticipated matchup because of their curling pedigrees.
Russ, 53, won world championships in 1987 and 1993 with Glenn as his third and went onto win Olympic gold playing second for Brad Gushue in 2006.
Glenn, 46, skipped his own team to national and world titles two years ago and Ontario is a co-favourite to win the Brier again.
While the brothers had faced each other in bonspiels, they’d never squared off at a national championship.
Tennis matches between sisters Venus and Serena Williams often have a strange dynamic because the two feel conflicted about facing each other. Glenn felt similar emotions as Ontario took a commanding lead.
“To be honest, it felt strange playing that game,” Glenn said. “I’ve never had a comfortable feeling playing on the other side against Russ because it was 17 years we played together.
“In a perfect world, I would have liked to have won on the last shot.”
The battle of the Howards wasn’t a classic in terms of execution. New Brunswick struggled mightily at the start as Ontario took a 3-0 lead in the first end.
Russ tried to wick off his own stone to the button, but rolled too far and gave up a steal of three in the fifth to fall behind 7-1. The veteran skip was so disgusted at falling behind that he slammed his broom hard on the ice and it flew apart.
“The last thing you want to do is swear on TV, so that was the best option,” Russ said.
Russ re-assembled his broom during the fifth-end break. He could face a fine from the Canadian Curling Association ranging from $150 to $500 for his behaviour, with the money going to the Sandra Schmirler Foundation.
CCA director of event operations Warren Hansen said a fine was possible and if so, the New Brunswick skip would be notified with a letter either later Tuesday or on Wednesday.
The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin Thursday advance to playoffs. Ontario and Alberta were well on their way to securing two of them.
Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador was the closest to the frontrunners at 5-2, but didn’t hold much hope of catching them.
“Our focus is now to try and get third place,” Gushue said. “It’s probably asking a little bit too much for Alberta and Ontario to lose three games each.”
Martin’s Edmonton team dominated Tuesday, outscoring their opposition 19-6 and playing just 12 ends in total.
Their 11-4 thumping of P.E.I.’s Rod MacDonald was Martin’s 20th straight win going back to last year’s Brier in Winnipeg.
“Guys are just making everything they need to,” Martin said. “No complaints for sure. We’re getting off to good starts and that’s key.”
Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton lost twice to fall into a tie at 4-3 with New Brunswick’s Howard, who rebounded from their loss to Ontario to beat Stoughton’s Winnipeg team.
Quebec’s Jean-Michel Menard and B.C.’s Sean Geall were at 3-4. P.E.I.’s MacDonald, Nova Scotia’s Mark Dacey, Saskatchewan’s Joel Jordison and Jamie Koe of Yukon/Northwest Territories were all 2-5 and Northern Ontario’s Mike Jakubo was 1-6.
With the game out of reach for New Brunswick, the Howard brothers injected some entertainment into the eighth end. Glenn called the shot and held the broom on Russ’s final throw. Glenn even joined New Brunswick sweepers to bring the stone into the house before both teams shook hands.
“That was a cool moment,” Russ Howard said. “There’s a lot of memories when he’s holding the broom.”
The two brothers embraced after the game. Russ had recovered some of his good humour by then, but was disappointed not to have made a more memorable game of it.
“It was frustrating because we were good enough to scare them for sure,” Russ said. “It was special playing him, but as a competitor it wasn’t much fun.”
Another Howard was part of the plot. Russ’s son Steven is a front-end player for New Brunswick. While the game was an emotional roller-coaster for his father and uncle, Steven enjoyed the moment
“Uncle Glenn gave us a little beating, a little bruise, but fighters always get back in the ring,” he said.
Displays of anger create a buzz in curling arenas because they’re so rare in the sport. In his 13 previous Brier appearances, Russ became known for his intensity and loud sweeping calls that often destroy his voice before the end of the tournament, but he hasn’t been one to lose his cool.
While he and his brother chatted freely for most of the game, Glenn gave Russ a wide berth during the fifth-end break.
“It’s cool because he’s 53 years old and he wants to win it as bad as anybody.” Glenn said. “He shows intensity and that’s what you’ve got to love about the guy.”
Alberta’s Martin, playing on the sheet next to Ontario and New Brunswick, chalked Russ’s outburst to the tension curlers feel during the week.
“You’ve got to release it,” Martin said. “You’re in a fishbowl. You see a lot of hockey players busting sticks and that’s sport. It’s great to see Russ cares that much about the sport still.”
Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton was fined $1,000 at the 2006 Brier for kicking rocks and slamming his broom, but also for previous offences the CCA said he’d accumulated. He appealed that fine and had it reduced.
“I think we got it down to $250,” Stoughton recalled. “Banging a broom and breaking isn’t the end of the world.
“If you’re verbally abusing the other team or the umpires then I could see it, but if you’re out there banging a broom and not hurting anybody, what’s the big deal?”