SYDNEY — One of curling’s most decorated players will defend one of his many titles this week as the Grand Slam of Curling event The National makes its return to the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre.
Glenn Howard’s Coldwater, Ont., rink won last year’s event in Dawson Creek, B.C., after outlasting Kevin Martin’s rink from Edmonton 6-5 in the final. He’ll be in action tonight for the opening draw against the foursome skipped by John Epping of Toronto beginning at 7 p.m.
It’ll be a family affair for the Howard’s tonight. Glenn’s son, Scott Howard, is a second on the Epping team.
“There’s a relative of mine on that team, so yeah, he’s coming at me for sure,” joked Glenn, who has won four Briers and four world championships in 1987, 1993, 2007 and 2012. “And they’re damn good. They’re playing well. They just won their zone and regions, so they made it to provincials a few weeks from now, so they’ll be keen to play. It’ll be interesting to see who will come through.”
This week’s event is the second-last Grand Slam of Curling event of the season. Howard is coming off a win at the Canadian Open last month in Kelowna, B.C.
The National was last held in Port Hawkesbury in 2007. Martin’s rink won both tournaments held at the civic centre in March and December. Port Hawkesbury first hosted the event in 2005, where Howard’s current third, Wayne Middaugh, won with his Toronto-based rink.
“We do tend to play in quite a few, larger areas, but a lot of times they aren’t huge,” said Howard. “You get that small-town atmosphere and you get a good chunk of the town to watch. I like it better in some of the smaller areas. Sometimes you find there’s more attendance — people tend to watch it more in the smaller areas than they do in the big ones.”
This year’s draw boasts 18 of the top men’s curling teams from around the world. Along with Howard’s crew and Martin, a 2010 Olympic gold medallist and four-time Brier champion, the tournament boasts the likes of Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., a 2006 Olympic gold medallist, as well as 2010 Brier and world champion Kevin Koe of Edmonton, 2011 world champion Jeff Stoughton of Winnipeg, 2009 European champion Niklas Edin of Sweden and 2010 Olympic silver medallist Thomas Ulsrud of Norway — known just as well for their colourful pant selection.
“You have 18 really good teams and honest to God, anyone could win it,” Howard said of the opposition. “It all comes down to consistency and who gets hot. Someone gets hot off the hopper, they get the feel, things are going well and they cruise. That happens.”
The quarter-finals and semifinals are scheduled for Saturday at 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. respectively. The semifinal winners will clash in the tournament final Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
The event will be broadcast by Sportsnet starting Thursday until Sunday’s final. The complete broadcast schedule can be found under the tournament’s page at sportsnet.ca.
On Twitter: @cbpost_sports