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Howard sets ironman record in Saskatoon

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SASKATOON -- Canadian curling has a new ironman.

Ontario's Glenn Howard set a record on Tuesday, playing his 175th and 176th career games at the Tim Hortons Brier, snapping the old record of 174 games held by his older brother, Russ Howard.

The record-breaker came on the afternoon draw against Saskatchewan's Scott Manners. And for the fifth consecutive game here this week, Ontario went into an extra end. Howard took two with the hammer in the extra to make his record-setting game also a winning one.

"I'd like somebody to figure out all the games I've played, all the rocks I've thrown and then figure out how much weight that was," Howard laughed after the win over Saskatchewan. "That's an awful lot of games and it's pretty neat to be able to say you've played more Brier games than anyone in history. Kinda cool...

"I've really enjoyed every minute and I can't believe it's been 175 games. That's a lot of curling."

Howard played his 176th game against Manitoba's Rob Fowler Tuesday night.

Perhaps even more impressive than the quantity of the games Howard has played at the Canadian men's curling championship has been the quality of his play. In 13 previous trips to the Brier, Howard's teams made the playoffs 12 times, made the final 10 times and won three times.

"That's pretty good," said Howard, "and I'm pretty proud of being a part of all those teams."

Playing at a fever pitch

ALBERTA third Pat Simmons has been running a fever here the past couple days and he half-seriously wondered if that might have had something to do with him getting called for two hogline violations in Alberta's win over Newfoundland Tuesday morning.

"I've maybe had a handful (of violations) in my career with these handles," said Simmons, "so two is a lot in one game... I don't know -- I know I was hot, hot, hot when I got to the doctors office last night. I don't know if those are heat-related things or what. I just know I have to make an adjustment."

An electronic hogline detection system that is built into the handles of the rocks that are in use here this week can automatically sense if a curler has failed to completely release a rock before it reaches the hogline.

If a violation occurs, lights on the handle blink red -- something that happened to Simmons in the third and fourth ends on Tuesday.

After the second violation occurred, Alberta asked to have the rock in question -- it was the same rock in both violations -- tested. A test was done by an ice technician while the two teams waited and the test showed the handles were functioning normally.

Simmons also lost a third rock to a pick in the second end. But despite it all, Alberta still thrashed Newfoundland 8-1.

Gushue hits rock-bottom

NEWFOUNDLAND'S Brad Gushue has competed in eight previous Briers and never won. He's not going to win his ninth one either.

Gushue heads into today at 2-5 and is completely baffled about why a new team he is hoping can get him back to the Winter Olympics -- where he won gold in 2006 -- has so dramatically underperformed this week.

Or have they?

"Having been here and been in contention the last seven years," said Gushue, "it's very difficult to take to come here and have a team that is essentially rebuilding. And maybe it was my own confidence, cockiness, stupidity, being an idiot to come here and expect to do as well as we have in the past.

"Or maybe I was right in thinking that and we just had a bad week."

Gushue said his team will still compete at next month's Players Championship, at which point he will take stock of the season and decide what -- if any -- changes need to be made to the team.

What is clear, however, is that he is not taking his team's struggles here this week lightly.

"I won't say it's the lowest point of my curling career," said Gushue, "but it's damn close."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 7, 2012 D3

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