Sports Curling

Frans, Howard, Rumfeldt and Epping left to vie for Ontario crown

By Stephen Sweet, Special to Postmedia Network

After beginning the week with 11 rinks, we’re down to four.

With no tiebreakers necessary, the top four rinks, skipped by Joe Frans, Glenn Howard, Robert Rumfeldt and John Epping have all qualified for the page playoffs at the 2013 Dominion Tankard, taking place at the Barrie Molson Centre.

Frans will take on Howard in the 1 vs. 2 game, from which the winner will get direct entry to Sunday’s final.

The loser will take on the winner of Rumfeldt and Epping in the 3 vs. 4 contest, as two of the better-known curlers in Ontario will have to battle it out to determine who stays alive.

Although the seven-time defending provincial champion Howard came in as the prohibitive favourite, it was Frans that turned the tide of the event when the two went head-to-head on Wednesday morning.

At that time, Howard was flying. He’d come into Draw 5 having only needed more than seven ends to finish off an opponent once.

Meanwhile, Frans was 1-2 less than 24 hours before, and even the easygoing curler was showing signs of frustration.

But when they went head-to-head, Frans and his rink turned it around. He never trailed in that game, and he picked up a steal of two in the eighth end to clinch an 8-3 victory over Howard.

From then on in, Frans was untouchable, winning a total of seven games in a row to finish round-robin play at 8-2.

Frans, who curls out of the Bradford Curling Club but lives in Erin, has a chance to return to the finals for the second straight year, after having played second for Team Corner last year.

Howard, meanwhile, struggled to close out the stretch, dropping games to Team Prebble and Team Cochrane in his final two round-robin contests.

Ultimately, those two defeats didn’t end up meaning anything, since Howard held the tiebreaker to get into 1 vs. 2 game, but it isn’t often you see that rink drop games in succession.

That being said, Team Howard always seems to turn it on when it matters and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them back in a position to play for an eighth straight provincial title.

The road will be a little longer for Rumfeldt and Epping, who both face elimination on Saturday.

Rumfeldt’s rink has been involved in close contests all week long, with just a few exceptions.

Looking to be in good shape at 5-1, Team Rumfeldt had a Thursday to forget, where it blew an 8-4 lead against Team Frans after eight ends, eventually losing in extras when the Bradford Curling Club stole points in the tenth and eleventh.

It went from bad to worse for the Guelph rink in the night draw, as it fell behind 5-0 to the streaking Team Deruelle and could never recover in an 8-2 loss.

But needing a win to book a spot in the playoffs, Rumfeldt looked sharp on Friday, taking down Team Epping 7-4 before hammering Team Higgs 12-4 to clinch third place.

Epping comes into the weekend having already played in what felt like a playoff game.

Had the rink have lost to Team Ferris in the final draw on Friday night, they would have been forced to play the same squad in a tiebreaker on Saturday.

But Team Epping looked the part of a top team in this event, extending its lead to 4-1 after a fourth-end steal of two and then closing out the match with four more in the eighth.

It was a much-needed triumph for Team Epping, as it had lost three of its four previous games after starting the week at 5-0.

As much as the first game against any opponent sets the tone, the second one is just as much up for grabs, with both rinks having already seen each other only days ago.

Frans and Howard will play for a berth in the finals on Saturday at 2 p.m., while Rumfeldt and Epping hit the ice at 7 p.m., and both games will be shown live on Rogers TV.


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