Martin, Howard headed for showdown?

Robin
Robin Short
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Travel-weary Alberta skip firmly in crosshairs

The weight of the, er, world finally off his shoulders, Kevin Martin touched down in St. John's early this morning a relieved, but travel-weary contender to another Tylenol Players' Championship title.

And that leaves Martin and his world champion Edmonton team in the crosshairs of a deep 16-team men's field which hits the Mile One Centre ice today.

Glenn Howard (standing) and Kevin Martin (kneeling), shown here at the 2008 Tim Hortons Brier, are the top seeds entering the Tylenol Players' Championship beginning today at Mile One Centre. Martin and his rink of John Morris (left), Marc Kennedy and Ben

The weight of the, er, world finally off his shoulders, Kevin Martin touched down in St. John's early this morning a relieved, but travel-weary contender to another Tylenol Players' Championship title.

And that leaves Martin and his world champion Edmonton team in the crosshairs of a deep 16-team men's field which hits the Mile One Centre ice today.

"Kevin's played a whole whack of games lately and they were on such a high, he's got to be tired," said Ontario's Glenn Howard Tuesday.

Howard, from Penetanguishene, Ont., and Martin enter the Players as the top two seeds and another championship final date - just as it was in Winnipeg at the Tim Hortons Brier - isn't out of the question.

Martin tops the Canadian Team Ranking System points total with Howard in the two-spot. Likewise the World Curling Tour's money list with Martin at No. 1 with $111,000 in earnings this year and Howard second at $101,795.

On the Tour this season, Martin won four events, including the BDO Classic Canadian Open and The National, both Capital One Grand Slam events. Howard hasn't been bad, either, winning five events, one of which was the Masters of Curling, another Slam bonspiel.

But Martin won the biggies this year, going a combined 21-1 - and reeling off 20 straight wins - through the Brier and world championship, capped off last weekend with a 6-3 win over Scotland's Dave Murdoch in the final in Fargo, N.D. The win ended a lengthy gold-medal drought on the world stage for Martin.

And unless you're wearing the black pants and Herb Tarlek-like white belts of the Howard team, the Ontario's team sweep of the 2007 Brier and worlds might seem like ancient history.

Martin beat Howard 5-4 in the Brier final this year, offering St. John's as a venue for some redemption for Russ Howard's little brother.

The Alberta skip might not be sharp in his first game this evening against Martin Ferland. That's because the team left Fargo Monday, spent a day in Toronto on Tuesday doing a series of media interviews, and flew to St. John's last night.

"We'll see what we can do," Martin said. "We'll try to be focused and ready to go. Somehow we have to get mentally focused. We have to try to be mentally sharp."

Since the inception of the Players' in 1993, Martin's won a leading five titles and is looking to extend his total.

"It's one of my favourite events," he said. "It offers the best of the best and that's what sport's about, isn't it?

"I'm always pumped when we play the best."

Certainly, Howard is one of the best.

"I thought we did better this year, actually," he said. "We came close as we could to last year until that last game of the Brier.

"So, if we win the Players' Championship, that would cap off a great year."

While Martin sleepwalks his way to Newfoundland, Howard arrives a tad rusty. He lost in the quarter-final to Wayne Middaugh in the Bear Mountain Arena Classic two weeks ago, but other than that hasn't thrown a lot of rocks since the Brier.

"I don't think the Players' has gone this late before (on the calendar)," Howard said. "And the problem is there's not a lot of ice around. We haven't had ice up here since last week," he said from Penetanguishene.

rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Canadian Team Ranking System, World Curling Tour, BDO Classic Canadian Open Capital One Martin's

Geographic location: St. John's, Alberta, Ontario Penetanguishene Winnipeg Scotland Fargo, N.D. Toronto Newfoundland

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