Glenn Howard hopes the crowd gathered at Mile One Centre Friday morning were standing just to praise, not bury him.
After Howard and his Ontario team finished their Brier round robin with a win over the Northwest Territories, the nearly 6,000 in the stands at Mile One began applauding, eventually rising to their feet as the clapping and cheering continued and grew in volume
The 54-year-old Howard, who had just extended his Brier games-played record to 217 in his 17th Canadian men’s curling championship, another record, doesn’t believe they were eulogizing his career.
“I don’t know, you’d have to ask them,” said Howard with a slight smile when asked if he thought the fans were saying goodbye.
“I think it was just a respect thing for our team and what we have done.
“It was pretty cool to have 6,000 people get up and give you a standing ovation. Pretty sweet. I was emotional there.”
Howard said earlier this week he has no plans to retire from the game, but did acknowledge that this could turn out to be his last Brier.
“I have no idea,” he said. “I know I don't have too many left.”
Howard won his first Brier as a skip in 2007, when he Hart, Brent Laing and Craig Savill defeated Gushue and Newfoundland in the final.
About 10 minutes after the conclusion of the Ontario-Territories game, Newfoundland and Labrador finished its round-robin schedule with a 6-3 win over Nova Scotia. Speaking to reporters, Gushue added to the kudos for Howard.
“That team, with Savill, Laing and Rich, were by far the best finesse team on tour. They really changed the game by playing those soft hack weights and peel shots,” said Gushue.
“Their impact has been incredible and 17 Briers is incredible.”
Gushue says he can’t imagine Howard retiring — “When he’s out on tour, you can see it. He loves playing. He loves being with the guys, loves competing.” — but noted how tough it is for a team to win in Ontario and earn a berth in the Canadian men’s championship.
“You take (Toronto’s) John Epping. John’s a top five, six team in the world. His time will come. He will be in the next couple of years for sure,” said Gushue.
If it turns out Howard doesn’t get to another Brier, St. John’s will have provided him with a memorable finale.
He spoke about how loud Mile One has been all week.
“To hear the fans erupt like that, it gets you excited. I’ve played in front of much bigger crowds (and) there have been a few crowds that have been louder, but just a few times. This has been loud every draw and good for them,” said Howard
“They’re rooting on the hometown boy (Gushue) and they’ve made it fun to be out there.”
“You can ask all the players, there’s nothing better than playing in front of people who are that excited.”
Note: Total attendance for the 17 round-robin draws at Mile One was more than 92,000, or an average of more than 5,400 per draw in the building, which has a curling capacity of just more 6,100.
Last year’s Brier was held at the 8,200-seat TD Place in Ottawa (Civic Centre), where overall attendance, including playoffs, was 115,047. With five playoff games left in this event, that should easily be eclipsed this year.
Brier field will be grow by four in 2018
Glenn Howard and his Ontario team of Richard Hart, David Mathers and Scott Howard finished the 17th and final Brier round-robin draw on Friday with a 4-7 record by beating Jamie Koe and the Northwest Territories 6-5.
That result left the Territories with a 1-10 record, the same as New Brunswick and Mike Kennedy, but NWT will finish last because it lost to the New Brunswickers in the round robin.
In the last three years, that would have meant relegation to a Brier pre-qualifying tournament. But that won’t happen in 2018 as the event is going to a 16-team, two-pool, all-inclusive format.
Nunavut, Prince Edward Island and Yukon, who did not advance out of this year's qualification round, will be included in the main draw next year along with a 16th team.
Details on how the latter will be determined have not been announced, although it is believed the chosen process could involve use of the Canadian Team Ranking System.