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Glenn Howard still having fun at curling’s elite level

Hold up, Glenn Howard isn’t ready to hang up his curling brush just yet.

Given the vintage performance Howard delivered to close out the 2017-18 campaign, who could blame him? The 56-year-old skip from Tiny, Ont., enjoyed a renaissance reaching the semifinals at the Princess Auto Elite 10 and finishing runner-up at the Humpty’s Champions Cup to prove he’s still got the magic touch that earned him the “Wizard of Winter” nickname.

Although the late-season surge had some influence on Howard’s decision to return this season — playing with his son, Scott Howard, at third alongside second David Mathers and new lead Tim March — the real answer is simply because he’s having fun.

“We were fortunate to get into both of those events and we came out and played terrific,” Glenn Howard said. “For the Champions Cup we didn’t have a chance to throw a rock for like a month because all our ice was gone but we just said, ‘So what?’ It’s just curling, go back out and play and we played amazing.

“We were beating some of the best teams in the world and it just goes to show you we could still play with the big boys and it’s fun. When you’re going out and doing what you’re doing, beating some of the best teams in the world, I’ve got news for you: It’s a blast.”

Howard has been assessing whether or not to return on a year-by-year basis for the past few seasons now, but he had a ball last year and is looking forward to the same again with his Penetanguishene, Ont., based team.

“I’ve got my son playing with me, I’ve got some great teammates and I’m really having fun,” he said. “I really love to compete, I really love to curl and that’s why I’m curling. I said, ‘You know what? I’m not ready to pack it in.’ I’m still making some shots, still enjoying it and it really is a fun thing for me.”

“I want to play in the Slams because [they’re] the big events of the curling year and if I don’t I’m disappointed,” added Howard, who is one of the Original 18 skips in the series. “We’re working hard to get to them.”

Team Carruthers fourth Mike McEwen said it’s unbelievable Howard is still playing at a competitive level and appeared somewhat envious of the accomplishment.

“I’ve got aches and pains and I’m only 38,” McEwen said with a smile. “I’m not sure how old Glenn is but it’s got a five in front of it. I’m not going to make that and I say that in an endearing way. …

“The fact that he gets to play with his son is a pretty cool story. It’s unbelievable that he can do that and a testament to how he’s kept himself limber. That’s not easy to do. Like I said, I’m getting aches and pains and, oh man, I just hope I can play another couple of cycles never mind getting to 50-something. It’s pretty special what he’s doing in the sport right now.”

Team Epping second Brent Laing remains good friends with his former skip, just this past summer they spent time together on a golf trip, and he said it’s great seeing Howard out there playing well (as long as he isn’t when they face off, of course).

“I have no time for the naysayers out there who say it’s time for him to retire,” said Laing, who won two Brier and world titles plus 12 Grand Slams with Howard. “There’s no time to retire, it’s different for everybody. He’s maybe not good every day as he once was but when he plays well he’s as good as anybody still and he still loves to play so it’s great to see him out there.”

It was a dream come true for Scott Howard to join his dad’s team at lead in 2015, and he was hoping the day would come when he would move up to third. Two Howards in the house seems to be a family tradition with Glenn previously playing third for his brother Russ in the 1980s and 1990s while Glenn’s daughter Carly is the current vice skip on Russ’s daughter Ashley’s team.

“Russ and my dad played together for the longest time and they were one of the best in the world,” Scott said. “Hopefully, I can follow in their footsteps but I’ve got big shoes to fill. I just take it one shot at a time and I’m happy to be out there. Hopefully, we can have a good year, I’m really looking forward to it, and we can do some damage on the tour.”

It was actually Scott’s idea after he played the position for the team during a tournament last season in Portage la Prairie, Man., as then third Richard Hart was recovering from a knee injury. Team Howard went on a tear, winning five consecutive games, until losing to Team Carruthers in the final. The wheels started spinning in Scott’s head.

“We talked about it at the beginning of the summer and he said, ‘Dad, I’d really like to play third,’ so we said let’s do it, let’s give it a go,” Glenn said. “We’re going to get along. We get along as father and son and we won’t have any trouble on the ice. We just want to hopefully have fun and go out and show everyone we can still curl.”

It’s not unfamiliar territory for Scott, who played third for Mat Camm and finished runner-up at the Canadian junior championships in 2011, and he said he’s always loved playing in that spot.

“I feel like it’s my natural position,” Scott said. “I had a lot of fun at lead but wanted to step up my game and play well. Portage just made my decision that much easier and all the boys were on board. Hopefully, I don’t have to look back and it’s been a great run so far. We were pretty fortunate in Portage. … It gave me a lot of confidence, I’m really happy with the position and hopefully, we can do pretty well.”

McEwen added: “I have a daughter and if I could ever curl with her at some level would be amazing. The fact that [Glenn] gets to do that with his son, that’s really cool.”

Glenn Howard has nothing left to prove having won just about everything in the sport. He’s not in it only for the money, and never has been, and retains his day job as a manager at The Beer Store. Howard had a Hall of Fame-worthy career even before he started skipping by winning two Brier and world championships during his time playing third for his brother Russ. Glenn has added another pair of Brier and world titles as a skip since and picked up 14 Grand Slams along the way.

“He was never bad. His bad was better than most guy’s good. That’s why we did so well was because he was so consistently good,” Laing said. “As easy a guy to play for as you’ll ever find and we had so much fun off the ice. It was a great kind of 10-year run, we had a lot of success and we had lots of great laughs. We still, every now and again, throw around some group texts about some old memories and laugh. I’ve got all the time in the world for Glenn and always will.”

To put things into perspective: None of Howard’s current teammates were even born when he won his first world championship in 1987. His longtime rivals like Kevin Martin, Jeff Stoughton and Randy Ferbey stepped back from competitive curling years ago and yet Howard keeps sliding along still wearing the flashy white belt and sporting No. 4 on his jersey as a tribute to his hockey idol Bobby Orr.

It had been four years since Howard won his most recent Grand Slam title and as the season was coming to a close, the rumble of team changes and retirements tremored throughout the curling scene during the Princess Auto Elite 10 in March. Howard’s end? Not even close as McEwen looked like he had seen a ghost during the semifinals.

A wiped out McEwen, then skipping his own squad, had good reason to be spooked needing every ounce of energy he had to outlast Howard. It’s amazing McEwen had anything left in the tank the following day to decisively defeat Team Gushue for the championship.

The semifinal match shifted back and forth and was tied in the seventh when McEwen fired a geometric miracle bouncing off of a rock near the side boards into the four-foot circle to bump Howard’s shot stone and win what turned out to be the deciding end. McEwen was able to recall that moment vividly six months later during our interview at the Shorty Jenkins Classic.

“We had to make a circus shot to basically get an advantage in that game, otherwise, Glenn was going to the final,” McEwen said. “He played great at the end of the year. He made a Slam final and could have easily made the Elite 10 final. We snatched one away from him.”

Howard is fully aware he’s in the twilight of his career but even when he dropped to the C-side of the Stu Sells Oakville Tankard earlier this month and was on the verge of elimination when he spoke to this reporter, he was still happy to chat after the game and stick around for an adult pop and share stories with his fellow curlers.

“Are we the best in the world? No. Am I the best in the world? No. But I’m still enjoying curling,” he said. “I’m not disillusioned to the fact that if I start losing more than I’m winning, the fun will come out of it a little bit but I’ve already lost two here and I’m still enjoying myself. I’m just going to take it a year at a time.

“The body is holding up well and that’s another thing. I don’t mind going out and practising or working out at the gym and keeping myself in decent shape. I don’t mind throwing rocks and if it becomes a time when I don’t want to throw rocks then I know it’s time to pack it in.”

Scott Howard added: “For him to be at his age — what is he, 65 now? — but he’s still making tons of shots and we’re still beating the top teams in the world. I guess he’s thinking he can go for a couple more and he’s having a blast out there. The thing is, we’re still winning games too, so it’s not like we’re not having fun. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing and every day is so much fun.”

There’s that word again — fun — and isn’t that what sports are all about?