Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Middaugh worth his weight in granite

Canada's third has been a rock all season long

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BASEL, Switzerland -- At the start of the curling season, Wayne Middaugh wasn't sure whether he'd be able to handle his new position on skip Glenn Howard's team.

Middaugh had never played third on a full-time basis and didn't know if his back and legs would stand up to the grind of regular sweeping that the position demands.

It appears he was up for the challenge.

Middaugh, Howard and teammates Craig Savill and Brent Laing have been dominant this year. They carried the momentum from their win at the Tim Hortons Brier last month through to the world men's curling championship.

Canada finished round-robin play with a 10-1 record and will play Scotland's Tom Brewster in the Page playoff 1-versus-2 game this afternoon.

Middaugh led all thirds over the round-robin with a stellar 90 per cent shooting percentage. He's a big reason why the team has been so strong this season.

"I'm not one of those guys that works out all week long," Middaugh said. "I go to work 60 hours a week so I wasn't sure if my body would take it.

"But you know what, it turns out it has."

Middaugh, 44, who works as a golf club manager, said Howard called him about a year ago to discuss the possibility of getting on the ice together.

"It was Glenn, asking me if I wanted to (be a) spare for a few games," Middaugh said. "Turned out to be about 120 so far."

The Victoria Harbour, Ont., resident said it didn't take long for the team to find its rhythm.

"We played well right off the hopper," Middaugh said. "We lost a few playoff games but you know what, it was probably better that we lost a few quarters and semis along the way.

"We learned a lot about where we need to be and what shots we need to make."

Canada led all countries with an impressive 88 per cent shooting percentage in round-robin play at St. Jakobshalle. The lone loss was a 9-7 extra-end defeat to New Zealand in a meaningless game after the first seed had already been secured.

Canada beat Scotland 7-5 in their round-robin meeting Wednesday.

"Brewster is just one of those guys who knows how to turn it up a notch in the playoffs," Middaugh said. "Jeff (Stoughton) managed to sneak by him (in 2011 final). We know he's going to turn it up again against us.

"We've got to be ready and use that hammer to our advantage early in the game."

Middaugh has loads of experience and success at the top level.

He teamed with Howard and his brother Russ on the Canadian rink that won gold in 1993. Middaugh won another title as a skip in 1998.

Howard's third world title came in 2007 with Laing, Savill and Richard Hart. Middaugh joined the team prior to this season after Hart's retirement.

The chemistry between Howard and Middaugh is obvious when they're on the ice together. They're usually perched at the end of the sheet, brooms tucked under their arms, weighing in on the shots and the game.

They both respect the other's opinion and can voice it with confidence and usually a smile. It's a connection that can't be forced and comes from playing too many games to count -- often with or against each other.

"They've just been around so much," said Norway skip Thomas Ulsrud. "I think Glenn has good experience and Wayne was a really good skip himself.

"Pair these two guys together and it's going to be dynamite."

Sweden whipped New Zealand 10-2 in the tiebreaker game Friday to advance to today's Page playoff 3-versus-4 game against Norway. Sweden's Sebastian Kraupp filled in as skip once again for Niklas Edin, who has seen limited action because of a back injury.

 

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 C12

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