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Manitoba's Fowler: 'That's a tough way to lose'

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SASKATOON — Rob Fowler exceeded everyone’s expectations here at the 2012 Tim Hortons Brier — except his own.

In an event where few pundits were giving Fowler’s Manitoba foursome much of a chance to challenge over the past week, Fowler proved them all wrong in finishing second overall in the round robin with a very respectable 8-3 record.

But in the end, Fowler was unable to meet the expectations he and his foursome — third Allan Lyburn, second Richard Daneault and lead Derek Samagalski — had set for themselves.

In an event the Manitoba foursome genuinely believed they could win, it all came crashing down for them the moment it actually looked like they might.

A 9-3 loss to Ontario’s Glenn Howard in the Page playoff 1 vs. 2 game Friday night was both an eye-opener and a serious blow to Manitoba’s Brier hopes. And then Alberta’s Kevin Koe extinguished what hope remained for Manitoba in the semifinal Saturday night, riding a four-ender fuelled by a Manitoba pick in the eighth end to an 8-6 victory.

And so with that, Fowler is done — except for the formality of a bronze-medal game Sunday morning against the Territories — and the two teams everyone always thought would be in the 2012 Brier final, Alberta and Ontario, are exactly the two teams who will do battle Sunday night (TSN, 7 p.m.).

"That’s a tough way to lose," Fowler said Saturday night. "You go out, play your heart out and play your best game — really get into a position to win the game — and it just evaporates that quick on you."

Tonight’s Brier final will be a rematch of the 2010 Brier final between Howard and Koe. Howard will be hoping it won’t, however, be a replay of that game.

Howard was a perfect 12-0 heading into the 2010 final only to have the only game he’d lose all week come in the only one that mattered.

"It’s a great memory for us," said Koe, who went on to win a world title that spring. "And probably not so for him... Hopefully, we can get off to a good start. I think that will be key for us."

The backdrop this year — if not necessarily the result to come — is very similar. Howard was the best team all week and will carry an 11-1 record into the final against a Koe team who, just like in 2010, had to labour their way to the final through the 3-4 game.

Koe defeated his brother — Jamie Koe of the Territories — in Saturday afternoon’s 3-4 game to advance to face Fowler Saturday night.

What Koe found Saturday was a remarkably different Manitoba foursome than the one who looked wide-eyed and overmatched in falling behind 7-1 to Ontario through the first five ends Friday.

This time it was Manitoba who outplayed their opposition through the first five ends, carrying both a 3-2 lead and the advantage of hammer into the fifth end break.

But that’s when it all came apart. A steal for Alberta in the sixth end tied the score and then Manitoba yielded the hammer advantage in the seventh end with a single.

And that set the stage for a disastrous eighth end for Manitoba. In a week in which Manitoba’s undoing again and again was the big end, the final nail in their coffin came on yet another one. An apparent pick on Fowler’s first rock of the end — a hit and roll attempt — turned what was looking like it would be, at worst, a deuce for Alberta into what ended up being an open hit for four.

"We were in a position to take it a step further and get into the final," Fowler said. "We wanted that for us, we wanted that for Brandon, we wanted that for Westman, we wanted that for Manitoba. We had a lot of good breaks along the way in this run and unfortunately the break went against us here tonight."

While the Manitobans were adamant the pick in the eighth represented the margin of difference in their loss, the fact is they simply did not curl percentages high enough to win either of their two playoff games. Fowler, in particular, underperformed, getting outshot 84-66 by Koe and 89-73 by Howard in Manitoba’s final two games.

While the bronze-medal game is generally disparaged by curlers and the media alike, Lyburn said Manitoba curling fans can expect to see nothing but the best out of the Fowler team Sunday morning — something Jamie Koe also promised earlier Saturday for his foursome.

"I’m going to have three beers and a pizza tonight," pledged Lyburn, "and then I’m going to come out firing for the bronze-medal game (today). Our dream of winning this thing is gone, but at the same time a bronze medal would be quite nice to finish it off."

LOOSE HAIRS — Alberta third Pat Simmons has been battling a stomach bug all week and laboured his way through both his team’s wins yesterday. He vowed to answer the bell for one more game tonight. "I’m going to play," said Simmons, "until I can’t walk basically."

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