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As 3-man Howard team secures Brier berth, key decision looms ahead of nationals

After securing a provincial title with a three-man lineup, the members of Team Glenn Howard will be Regina-bound in about a month to play in the Montana’s Brier.

What remains unclear is whether the short-handed crew will add a player — and if so, who — for the Canadian men’s curling championship.

Howard’s status remains ambiguous due to lingering pain in his surgically repaired left knee. Son Scott Howard skipped the team to victory at last week’s Ontario playdowns and will likely throw last stone again at the March 1-10 nationals at Brandt Centre.

“Over the next little while — probably a week or so — we’re going to start batting out some names and see who [might] fit that mould for our team to give us the best chance to hopefully win this thing,” Scott said.

The elder Howard served as a coach last week in the London, Ont., suburb of Dorchester.

He hasn’t played a competitive game in almost two months and remains out indefinitely.

Scott ran the table in his place and made a draw to the button for an 8-7 extra-end win over Jayden King in the final.

“The best part is I felt so confident,” Scott said Monday. “I felt comfortable actually the whole week skipping and having that last rock.”

The younger Howard usually plays third but has skipped on occasion over the years. He also guided the team to victory at a bonspiel last month in Penticton, B.C., when Glenn’s knee “seized up” midway through the event.

The Penetanguishene, Ont.,-based side, which also incorporates lead Tim March and second David Mathers, does not use a regular fifth player. Adam Spencer and Wayne Middaugh have served as team alternates on occasion in the past.

If the team decides to add a player, it can pick up anyone who played in the Ontario championship or any free agent who hasn’t competed in another provincial/territorial playdown this season, a Curling Canada spokesperson said in an email.

Three-man squads are used infrequently in team curling but sometimes can be quite effective.

One of the more notable examples came in 2022 when Brad Gushue won the Brier without vice Mark Nichols, who missed the final weekend due to a positive COVID-19 test.

However, the Brier is a 10-day competition from start to finish. The physical toll on a short-handed squad would be more significant than at a shorter event like a provincial playdown or a Grand Slam.

Last week, March threw the first three rocks of each end for the team before sweeping the next five. His body “took a pretty big beating,” Scott said, adding that physiotherapy was needed after every game.

“It’s not like you get a break here or there being the opposite-side sweeper,” Scott said. “He’s sweeping hard every single rock … throughout 10 ends, it’s a daunting task for sure.”

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