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Confident Scott Howard coming up clutch in breakout year

ELMIRA, Ont. — You’ve come a long way, Scott Howard.

If there was a Most Improved Player award on the curling tour, it would have to go to Team Glenn Howard’s new third/former lead this season.

Following in your father’s footsteps to become an elite curler is never an easy task, especially when your dad is a giant in the sport like skip Glenn Howard and you’re playing back end together, but Scott isn’t one to back down from a challenge either.

If confidence could be measured, Scott would be off the charts as seen during Team Howard’s round-robin game Thursday afternoon against Team Charley Thomas in the Ontario provincial curling championships men’s Tankard at Woolwich Memorial Centre.

Glenn had just missed a possible game-ending draw in the ninth end to give up a single steal, swinging a potential four-point stranglehold and early handshakes into a tight two-point affair and sending it down to the wire. Scott upped his game delivering back-to-back double takeouts that kept the front lanes open and left Team Thomas nowhere to hide as Glenn secured the victory with an easy open hit on his first skip stone, adding three more points on the board in the 8-3 decision.

“It’s always nice to make that double and keep the pressure off the skipper there,” Scott said. “Just had to make contact with one of the blues on his next two, so it was nice to make that last one and hopefully we can keep going well.”

The victory turned out to be crucial as Howard and Thomas qualified for the playoffs and finished tied in the standings, which meant their head-to-head game decided who would start with the hammer in Saturday’s Page 3-4 rematch. Howard won that one as well in an extra end to advance to Sunday’s semifinals.

Both the confidence and the fact Scott can back it up has made Glenn one proud papa.

“The cool thing, he made two unreal shots,” Glenn said with a smile. “The beauty, the one that crossed the sheet double, is one of those ones we don’t really have to make but he said, ‘Dad, I’m going to make this shot.’ Pfft, have at ‘er, kid. He goes down and makes it.

“He did that again in the ninth end. He had a tough shot and he goes, ‘Dad, I’m going to make this.’ I love the confidence and then he goes and produces. He’s really come into his own. He’s really playing great. He loves playing third and I obviously have no regrets making the move at all. He’s played terrific all year.”

Scott’s strong play this season isn’t going unnoticed across the sheets either.

“Scotty Howard has been phenomenal this season,” said Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling MC Pete Steski, who is also providing colour commentary during the Ontario provincial curling championships. “I think he has been the most surprising player in the Grand Slams this year.”

Brent Laing played on Team Howard from 2004-14 winning a pair of Brier and world championships plus a dozen titles in the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling. Although Laing didn’t actually play alongside Scott, other than when Scott served as their alternate at the Brier and worlds, he’s all-too-familiar with what the 28-year-old can bring to the table.

“Scott’s never lacked confidence,” Laing said. “Good on him for thinking not only does he want to play third but thinks he can and knew he could. Obviously, he’s playing well and it’s fun to see Glenn and Scott out there together. I can’t imagine what that’s like, especially for Glenn after all of these years. He’s playing great and he’s just full of confidence, has been forever since I met him. You’ve got to admire a guy who thinks he can do it and goes out and does it.”

The transition has been smooth because third isn’t unfamiliar territory for Scott having played that role in junior with skip Mat Camm and representing Ontario at the 2011 Canadian junior championship where they earned a silver medal.

Still, it had been a number of years since then as he stepped onto the Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling scene as a front-end player. Scott captured the 2012 Players’ Championship at second for skip John Epping upsetting Team Howard in the final no less.

The younger Howard joined his father’s team at lead in 2015 but was dreaming about one day playing third side-by-side with his dad.

What sparked the eventual switch was the 2017 Canad Inns Men’s Classic where Scott had to step up to the vice role for the event with then-third Richard Hart out. Team Howard went all the way to the final and the gears started turning.

“I feel so comfortable in the position and it’s the first time I’ve played third since juniors,” Scott said. “I’m really enjoying it. The line calling, I feel like I’ve made a lot of line calls this year and I’m actually making all of the runbacks and all the hack-weighters and stuff. I got the finesse game from playing lead all of those year and my high-weight game is intact right now. Just keep playing well.”

Scott called third his “natural position” and Glenn concurred.

“It’s totally natural and we talked about that at the beginning of the year even, making the move and he said, ‘Dad, I’d love to play third, I think it’s my natural position,’” Glenn said. “He was a really good third in juniors but it had been a while. This is the big leagues, right? Then he came out and basically he’s played terrific all year and hasn’t looked back.

“Even if he didn’t play well, I would have no regrets. He’s my kid and it’s super cool playing with him in the back end. He’s coming up clutch when he has to and that’s impressive. You have to do that at this league and especially at third.”

Team Howard has qualified for the playoffs in four of the five Pinty’s Grand Slam of Curling events so far this season with two semifinal and two quarterfinal finishes. The Penetanguishene, Ont., squad, which also includes second David Mathers and lead Tim March, is currently ranked No. 8 on the World Curling Tour’s year-to-date standings with title wins at the Stu Sells 1824 Halifax Classic and Nissan Curling Classic.

The former was even a case of Team Glenn Howard minus Glenn Howard as the skip was away and Scott had to step up to the plate to call the shots. (Super spare Adam “The Crusher” Spencer pinch-hit at third.)

Not only did Team Howard post a perfect 6-0 record, they defeated double defending Brier champs Team Brad Gushue 8-4 in the final thanks to a sick six-ender in the third end.

I know what you’re thinking, how the heck did Scott score a six-ender on Team Gushue?! Surely Gushue had to have messed up, right? Well, not quite as the rocks just happened to line up in all the right spots and Scott had to pull off a thin triple takeout, which by now you could probably figure he was more than willing to take on.

“It’s not like it was a draw to the four-foot,” Scott was quick to point out with a chuckle. “I had to make a pretty thin triple for six. It was a great game. The boys played well all week, we had Crusher Adam Spencer playing third and we had a blast in Halifax. Just one end for that game to go the right way and it was a good win.”

“That just goes to show you the kid can play,” Glenn added. “Now you’ve gone from playing third all year to playing skip in a bonspiel and brought in the Crusher, who’s not going to hurt him at all. Scott apparently played terrific, they all did all week, and then made an unreal shot against ‘The Gu’ to get a six-ender. That was incredible.

“For him to win that, what a boost of confidence to the team. It leapfrogged us into a good points situation and obviously good for Scott to go out there and skip. He had to have made a ton of shots there that weekend, they went 6-0, so pretty impressive.”

Scott probably didn’t need the sky-high confidence boost, luckily there’s his sister Carly around to bring him back down to earth. Carly takes over Team Glenn Howard’s Twitter account during the Ontario Tankard and has always been quick to call out Scott, especially when he would hog a rock (#ScottHowardHoggedRockTally) or throw his first one coming out of the fifth-end break into the house when he was trying to put up a guard.

“Thank god I can’t do that anymore that I’m not playing lead but it’s funny,” Scott said. “She’s a great supporter of the team, she’s running our Twitter account and she’s been hilarious so far.”

“She’s always making little comments here and there but she’s pretty funny,” he added. “It’s all in good fun. It looks like I’m playing well so she can’t say too much.”

Sibling rivalry aside, Scott is well aware there were those who had doubts he could flourish in this role at the start of the season but he’s silencing those skeptics now. It appears he isn’t paying attention to the white noise either and sticking with a mantra that could be best summed up as “you do you.”

“I’m sure there are quite a few people out there who weren’t sure about this team with me moving up to third but it looks like I keep proving people wrong,” Scott said. “I’ll just keep playing well and keep going.”