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With Howard out with knee injury, son Scott skipping three-man team at Ontario playdowns

Scott Howard and Glenn Howard Scott Howard and Glenn Howard - Curling Canada

A three-man lineup has worked well at times for the members of Team Glenn Howard.

They're hoping a short-handed setup will lead to success again this week at the Ontario curling championship.

With Howard out with an injury, son Scott Howard will move from vice to skip while his father shifts to a coaching role starting Thursday in Dorchester, Ont.

"We made a team decision last week that we're going to just stick with three," Scott said. "It seemed to work for us in the past. We all feel comfortable and that's how we're going to play it out."

In early December, the elder Howard said he'd be out indefinitely after his surgically repaired left knee "seized up" at the Nufloors Penticton Curling Classic. He met with doctors and specialists in recent weeks but the 61-year-old said he's not ready to return.

"My knee is not co-operating," he said in a text message. "Very disappointing but what can you do."

The veteran skip has had knee problems in recent years but managed to play in some events earlier this season. The flare-up in Penticton, B.C., came midway through the bonspiel and forced his team to adjust on the fly.

Scott, lead Tim March and second David Mathers were up for the challenge. Over the final two days, they beat Canadian teams skipped by Kevin Koe, Aaron Sluchinski and Brendan Bottcher before topping American John Shuster's side in the final.

"We knew our roles and we had to step up," Scott said.

The team pocketed $20,000 with the title and also secured a berth in this week's playdowns at the FlightExec Centre near London, Ont.

Three-man teams are used infrequently 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.

Scott Howard said his side, which does not have a regular alternate, considered bringing in a substitute player but decided against it.

"Obviously you want four people on your team," he said. "That's the main priority and it's the best option. But with having three, we know each other and we're all good buddies. We know how everyone thinks and the strategy.

"So to bring in (a new) fourth player that we don't know as well just throws off the dynamics of the team."

Scott skipped the team to a title at the Stu Sells Halifax event in 2018 — topping Gushue in the final — while Glenn was in Europe tending to coaching duties. He has also filled in for his father when needed at provincial playdowns and the occasional Grand Slam event.

"I feel confident and you just have to focus a little bit more," Scott said. "That's what our game comes down to."

If a replacement for one of the remaining three players is required due to illness or injury, the team could still turn to Adam Spencer. He has served as a spare over the years and lives fairly close to the London, Ont.-area venue.

There are pros and cons to using a short-handed team.

Players on three-man rinks get a chance to throw more stones and develop a better feel for paths on the ice. One of the big downsides though is the physical toll with the broom.

"The fatigue is going to set in at some point," Scott said. "Just with how many rocks you're going to have to sweep. There's no breaks in between.

"So yes, there are some advantages but there are some disadvantages too."

Toronto's John Epping and Sam Mooibroek of Whitby, Ont., are some of the other headliners in the 12-team triple-knockout event. The winning team will represent Ontario at the March 1-10 Montana's Brier in Regina.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2024.

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