Reigning champion Glenn Howard is a four-time winner of the National. Howard eged Brad Gushue in the final of the Syncrude National in March.

Howard wins Syncrude National championship

March 16, 2014, 2:36 PM

Glenn Howard held the hammer in the final end and just needed his last shot to settle in the four-foot circle to win the Syncrude National title.

Easier said than done, of course.

Howard was facing two and the steal of one he gave up to Greg Balsdon in 10th end of the Ontario provincial final last month — ending his run of consecutive Brier appearances at eight — had to be weighing in the back of his mind.

But Howard made no mistake this time around as he drew his stone right on the button for a 7-6 victory over Brad Gushue in the Grand Slam of Curling event final on Sunday in Fort McMurray, Alta.

“I liked my weight but it was hanging on that corner guard for the longest way down and I was thinking, ‘I didn’t overthrow it, it should be curling any time,’” Howard told Sportsnet’s Joan McCusker after the game. “All-in-all it came up nice on the button and we won.”

The two rinks battled hard throughout the match, capitalizing on misses while trading doubles until the final end.

“Any time you play Glenn’s team you know you can’t let shots slip because they’ll take advantage so every shot we were focused as we could be and it was a great game by both teams,” Gushue told Sportsnet. “He had one more hammer than we did and that’s all it came down to.”

Gushue couldn’t get shot stone with his final rock in the opening end as it curled a little too hard and Howard jumped on the opportunity to score two. Gushue replied with a deuce of his own in the third and the two rinks exchanged doubles in the fourth and fifth and again in the sixth and seventh ends.

The Fort McMurray crowd was vocal in their support for Gushue’s team from St. John’s, N.L., and roared after every shot he fired. Several Newfoundland and Labrador flags were flying in the crowd as well.

“They cheered us on all week and it meant a lot to us,” Gushue said. “It was fun to go to the rink and we were kind of concerned after the Brier about a bit of a letdown but with the support that they gave us, there was no chance that that was going to happen.”

Howard, from Penetanguishene, Ont., has now won four National titles, tying Edmonton’s Kevin Martin for the most all-time. He went 4-1 in the round-robin with a 10-9 loss to Switzerland’s Sven Michel as his only setback. Howard slid past Martin in the quarterfinals and beat Saskatoon’s Steve Laycock in the semis.

“Just winning any one of these Grand Slam events is unbelievable,” Howard said. “You’re playing the best teams in the world all the time and to win one is unbelievable, to win a few is pretty special and I love doing it with my buddies.”

Gushue also finished 4-1 in the round-robin and defeated Sweden’s Oskar Eriksson in the quarterfinals and Michel in the semifinals.

Howard also took home the Masters championship on Nov. 3 during the opening leg of the Grand Slam of Curling. Gushue earned his first Grand Slam title at the National in January 2010 and was a finalist at the Canadian Open in November.

The fourth and final leg of the Grand Slam of Curling is the Players’ Championship, running April 15-20, at Credit Union Place in Summerside, P.E.I. The past three Slam events have been held out west and Gushue is looking forward to playing one closer to home, especially since teammates Adam Casey and Brett Gallant are originally from P.E.I.

“Any time you’re down east it’s pretty much that the Atlantic Canadian provinces support each other,” Gushue said. “I will imagine we’ll be the fan favourite out there as well so I’m looking forward to it.

“It’s going to be nice to have a couple weeks off after this but we’re going to be ready and hopefully sharp in Summerside.”