CALGARY — When Wayne Middaugh first joined Glenn Howard's team as a fifth, a utilityman role was planned: a veteran backup who could help strategize, provide guidance and have a little playing time mixed in.
It turns out he'll be much more than a traditional alternate at the Canadian men's curling championship.
With Howard still nursing sore ribs after a recent snowmobile accident, Middaugh has been thrust into the skip role for the Ontario-based Wild Card Three team. In his first competitive game in over five years, the Canadian Curling Hall of Famer delivered on Saturday at the WinSport Arena.
Middaugh made clutch draws on demand in a 9-5 win over Greg Skauge of the Northwest Territories in the opening game for both teams.
"This is the difference between Wayne Middaugh and anybody else," Howard said. "He hasn't played in a competitive game in five years and yet he goes out there and draws to the four-foot (ring) when he needs to.
"That's what we expected and that's what we got from him today."
Middaugh threw at 85 per cent in his first Tim Hortons Brier appearance since 2013. With Howard watching from the bench, his good friend led teammates Tim March, Scott Howard and David Mathers to victory.
"It's awesome, it's unbelievable," Middaugh said. "You play your whole life as a kid to get to play in the Brier and here I am. I don't know how I got here but here I am."
A broken leg derailed Middaugh’s competitive playing career in 2016 when he was Howard's vice.
Middaugh, who has won Brier and world titles at three different positions, later turned to coaching. He still plays regular local league games with Howard.
Elsewhere in Draw 2 action, New Brunswick's James Grattan defeated Mike McEwen's Wild Card One 6-3, Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs dumped Yukon's Dustin Mikkelsen 11-3 and Alberta's Brendan Bottcher dropped a 5-4 decision to Manitoba's Jason Gunnlaugson.
Two of the event favourites were pushed hard in the afternoon draw.
Wild Card Two's Kevin Koe edged Greg Smith of Newfoundland and Labrador 7-6 and Canada's Brad Gushue scored three in the ninth end of an 11-7 victory over Quebec's Michael Fournier.
"There's going to be misses," Gushue said. "We're just trying to get something out of every shot. I think that's the goal that we have."
The Alberta-based Koe, who's hoping to win a record fifth career Brier title as skip, improved to 2-0.
"We've been fooled a bit but I love where we're at," he said. "I think we're going to keep getting better, which is good, which we'll need to do."
Ontario's John Epping doubled Matt Dunstone of Saskatchewan 6-3 and Nova Scotia's Scott McDonald defeated Eddie MacKenzie of Prince Edward Island 11-4.
British Columbia's Steve Laycock opened with a 7-5 loss to New Brunswick in the night draw. Alberta rebounded with a 13-5 rout of the N.W.T. and Manitoba topped Yukon 9-5.
McEwen and his Manitoba-based team stole two points in the eighth end and added a single in the 10th for an 8-5 victory over Northern Ontario.
Three more draws are scheduled for Sunday at the Markin MacPhail Centre. The preliminary round continues through Thursday night.
The top four teams in each nine-team pool will advance to the two-day championship round starting Friday.
A three-team playoff is set for March 14. The champion will represent Canada at the world men's curling championship next month at the same venue.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2021.
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The Canadian Press