SYDNEY, N.S. — Longtime skip Russ Howard wasn't expecting to embark on a long television broadcasting career when he first entered the booth nearly two decades ago.
"In 2001, we lost the provincial final and they just asked me to do the morning games," Howard said. "I was scared out of mind."
The two-time world champion served as an analyst for TSN's coverage of the Tim Hortons Brier that year. He took on a greater role with the network in 2008 and has been a regular curling broadcaster since.
His breezy conversational style and remarkable knowledge of the roaring game has made him a natural fit on the air.
"It's the only thing that's close to replacing being out there playing because it's almost the same thing," Howard said. "The lights go on, the adrenalin goes, you've got to be on.
"It's live TV but camaraderie with a bigger team than three other guys. We have a lot of fun."
It took a little while for Howard to find a rhythm on the microphone. He still has to remind himself that sometimes he might see the game differently than others.
"Ratcheting it back and realizing that not everyone is a chessmaster on ice like he was has been part of his biggest learning," said TSN curling analyst Cathy Gauthier. "It's made him better because he realizes not everybody sees seven rocks ahead like he does."
Howard recalled a conversation with senior producer Scott Higgins when he was first starting out.
"He said, 'Remember in the fifth end when that rock stopped and you gave nine options? Out of the half-million people (watching), how many would catch those nine options other than you and your brother (Glenn)?'" Howard said with a laugh.
Higgins suggested that Howard try to imagine someone who might be listening to him on the broadcast.
"He said, 'Pick somebody,'" Howard said. "So I picked my mother. On Day 2. And I've talked to my mother ever since."
Working in the booth with Vic Rauter and Cheryl Bernard, Howard provides colour commentary at Season of Champions events, including this week's Scotties Tournament of Hearts at Centre 200.
"He's so much funnier than people realize," said Gauthier. "He's starting to realize that it's OK to share that side of him and I think that's made him better."
Howard meets with Bernard and Rauter about an hour before each draw to discuss plans for the upcoming games. The 63-year-old Moncton resident often massages the pipes with green tea before settling in for each broadcast, which usually lasts about three hours.
Howard tries to pick his spots, inserting nuggets of information from his research or experience throughout each game, while making an effort not to 'over-talk.'
The goal is smooth banter just like he'd have if he were sitting in the stands with a friend.
"My niche I hope is just explaining the strategy," Howard said. "I like to teach, I've been a golf pro all my life. I do a lot of coaching in curling. So that's kind of been the angle.
"See something that the average fan like my mother doesn't know."
Howard curled in 14 national championships — winning twice — and also won gold at the 2006 Turin Winter Games. He returned to the Olympics four years later as a broadcaster.
"Once in a while a fan will come up and say, 'I really enjoy your broadcast and I feel like I learn something every time I hear you do a broadcast,'" Howard said.
"That's quite gratifying."
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