Martin skipping all the way into the history books

CanWest News Service
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CURLING

There was a moment, late in Sunday's final of the Tim Hortons Brier, when Manitoba third Kevin Park was in the hack, about to throw, but clearly dubious of the amount of ice his skip, Jeff Stoughton, was giving him.

Thanks to TSN's microphones, we knew Park was not all that sold on the shot being called, either - there had been a fair amount of debate, and he and the front end were still murmuring, out of Stoughton's earshot - but now he yelled something like: "Do we need that much ice, Jeff?"

Kevin Martin

There was a moment, late in Sunday's final of the Tim Hortons Brier, when Manitoba third Kevin Park was in the hack, about to throw, but clearly dubious of the amount of ice his skip, Jeff Stoughton, was giving him.

Thanks to TSN's microphones, we knew Park was not all that sold on the shot being called, either - there had been a fair amount of debate, and he and the front end were still murmuring, out of Stoughton's earshot - but now he yelled something like: "Do we need that much ice, Jeff?"

Stoughton wordlessly moved to the other side of the house and held the brush for an entirely different shot. His body language said: "Fine. Do what you want."

It was over by then, anyway. Manitoba's team of accomplished, proficient amateurs had long since succumbed to a steady diet of steely-eyed professionalism, and all that entails: decisiveness, mental toughness, unerring shot-calling and shotmaking - the professionals being Kevin Martin and his Alberta team of third John Morris, second Marc Kennedy and lead Ben Hebert.

It was 8-3 at the time, or maybe 8-4.

Didn't matter.

The incident simply illustrated why Martin, who matter-of-factly laid waste to probably the strongest field in 15 years, going 13-0 for the second straight Brier to repeat as champion, is currently the best player in the world, arguably the best there ever was.

At times, the contrast between the 42-year-old and the other skips is stunning.

The rocks haven't even settled from the opponent's most recent effort before Martin is calling for the counter-measure. He is calm, sure of himself, willing to listen if a player is more comfortable with a different shot - as long as the argument is damned good - but at all times, he is the final word.

He knows all the angles, has probably thrown more granite than any man alive, and when it is his turn to deliver, Martin - who curled 97 per cent Sunday (and we can't remember which shot he missed), a record for a skip in the Brier final - is as pure a craftsman as there is.

"I don't believe in perfection," Kennedy said Sunday evening. "It's unattainable. But I'd like to add this: when the Old Bear is zoned in like he was today, firing bullets like that, he's as close as a curler can come to it."

Martin, who has four Brier wins, joining Saskatchewan's Ernie Richardson and Alberta's Randy Ferbey as the only skips with that distinction - was tested as rarely before in his final round-robin game and Friday's 1-2, extra-end playoff, both against Ontario's Glenn Howard, both masterpieces. Howard's foursome was nothing less than brilliant in the Thursday meeting, and still lost a last-rock thriller. Friday's rematch wrung every bit as much emotion out of both teams, and losing it surely took the edge off Howard's rink, which turned in a clunker against Manitoba on Saturday to miss out on the final.

Stoughton, coughing and sneezing throughout, was no match for the Alberta rink, which placed three on the all-star team - Martin, Hebert and the eerily accurate Kennedy. Morris, edged as the all-star third by Ontario's Richard Hart, responded by curling lights-out in the championship game.

But what shone through in both the Alberta-Ontario and Alberta-Manitoba matches was the easy camaraderie and sportsmanship among the three rinks. Of course, Howard, Stoughton and Martin were all marquee names in a nasty battle for self-determination with the Canadian Curling Association in the early part of the decade - a dispute over money that led to grand slams and a World Curling Tour and far more opportunities than curlers had ever known before, and from which all the game's stars now benefit.

Martin was a ringleader, and much criticized for it, among the elite rinks that boycotted the Brier for two years. He has never forgiven his longtime Edmonton rival (and one-time third) Ferbey for not joining the boycott, and thereby winning at least a couple of his four championships against inferior fields. Yet no one denies the Martin-Ferbey feud has helped make both of them better, and Alberta, with six Brier titles since 2001, the country's toughest precinct.

So Martin isn't all warm-and-fuzzy, the way he comes across in interviews on the tube. There's that uncompromising side to him, too - a tough, demanding skipper who insists that his rinkmates be as dedicated to the craft as he is. Easier said than done, trying to combine a professional's work ethic with a real job, in a sport that doesn't pay even its biggest winners lavish prize money.

Organizations: Canadian Curling Association, World Curling Tour

Geographic location: Manitoba, Alberta, Kevin Park Ontario Saskatchewan Edmonton

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Recent comments

  • Mark
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    I am, from time to time, a Gushue supporter.

    I have to admit, the way the press kissed his a$$ (not to mention everyone in the province) in 2006 made him a marked man, not to mention hated one, because afterall, Newfoundlanders are a humble people. We do not like to flash our success, we simply nod our head and carry on.

    BUT, in this years Brier, when he defeated Russ Howard, a team mate, arguably a vital teammate at that (after all, why would he have recruited him??) in my opinion disrespected Russ with the comment ''You can't teach an old dog new tricks''.

    This shows you still have some learning to do Brad. Afterall, it was a much older person who beat you and went onto to win the Brier.

    I guess you can't teach a young dog respect.

    Good luck in the trials next year, I hope you bring your A-game.

  • Mark
    July 01, 2010 - 20:04

    I am, from time to time, a Gushue supporter.

    I have to admit, the way the press kissed his a$$ (not to mention everyone in the province) in 2006 made him a marked man, not to mention hated one, because afterall, Newfoundlanders are a humble people. We do not like to flash our success, we simply nod our head and carry on.

    BUT, in this years Brier, when he defeated Russ Howard, a team mate, arguably a vital teammate at that (after all, why would he have recruited him??) in my opinion disrespected Russ with the comment ''You can't teach an old dog new tricks''.

    This shows you still have some learning to do Brad. Afterall, it was a much older person who beat you and went onto to win the Brier.

    I guess you can't teach a young dog respect.

    Good luck in the trials next year, I hope you bring your A-game.