EDMONTON – The hometown team is struggling at the Canadian men’s curling championship.
Alberta’s Kevin Martin lost 8-1 to Northern Ontario’s Brad Jacobs on Monday, dropping the reigning Olympic champion and four-time Canadian champion to 1-3.
“We’ve got to smarten up and curl better,” Martin said.
The top four teams at the conclusion of the round robin on Friday advance to the Page playoff.
A third loss doesn’t put Martin in the danger zone yet, but his Edmonton foursome is running out of wiggle room early at the Tim Hortons Brier.
“Three is safe, but we have three already so we have to get on a roll, bottom line,” the skip said.
The host committee certainly wants their star attraction playing into the weekend. In 11 previous Brier appearances, Martin missed the playoffs only once when he went 6-5 in 2000.
With his current team of third John Morris and front end Marc Kennedy and Ben Hebert, he won Olympic gold in 2010 as well as the 2008 and 2009 Canadian championships.
Martin won two of his four Canadian titles in Calgary, but hasn’t won a Brier in his hometown yet in his career. The 46-year-old can set a record for the most Briers won by a skip if his team can right the ship this week.
Brad Gushue of Newfoundland and Labrador at 5-0 and defending champion Glenn Howard of Ontario at 4-0 were the only unbeaten teams left heading into Tuesday.
Gushue edged Jacobs 9-8 in what was a second straight extra-end game for the St. John’s rink.
“The last two games haven’t been real sharp, so that’s where I’m kind of looking right now,” Gushue said. “It’s not the record. It’s how we go through the rest of the event, because unfortunately five wins aren’t going to get you into the playoffs. You’ve still got to win three or four more.”
Howard thumped Nova Scotia’s Paul Flemming 10-2 in the afternoon draw.
“We’re getting this little mojo going,” Howard said. “Hopefully it will continue. You never know. It can drop right off, but you want to ride that. It’s all about confidence and I like the four of us are playing confidently right now and we’ll just keep it going.”
Northern Ontario dropped into a tie at 4-1 with 2006 Canadian champion Jean-Michel Menard of Quebec. Three-time champion Jeff Stoughton of Manitoba was 3-1.
Jamie Koe of the Territories was 3-2 ahead of New Brunswick’s James Grattan and Brock Virtue of Saskatchewan at 2-3.
Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island’s Eddie Mackenzie and B.C.’s Andrew Bilesky were winless.
This is the fourth straight year 27-year-old Jacobs has skipped Northern Ontario at the Brier with his best result third in 2010. Howard and Jacobs meet Tuesday night in the Battle of Ontario.
“It’s going to be a big-time battle,” Jacobs said. “We know they’re going to come out and play phenomenal. I look over once in awhile. I don’t think they’re missing any shots those guys.”
Martin, Howard and Stoughton were the three pre-tournament favourites. Martin and Howard meet in the final round-robin draw Friday night.
The team that wins the pre-game draw to the button gets last-rock advantage in the first end. Alberta hasn’t started a game with the hammer yet.
Martin’s shooting percentage of 76 per cent ranks ninth among skips, while Morris and Kennedy rank sixth and seventh respectively at their positions.
Martin said he intended to spend the evening watching his daughter play hockey.
“Regrouping hasn’t really been a problem with this team,” he said. “Actually we’ve done pretty well over the years, so just keep to the game plan and just make more shots is really all there is.”
“It’s really hard to not be upbeat. It’s just we’re not curling well.”