Quebec secures place in Brier final four
Team Quebec skip Jean-Michel Menard guides his rock in the 9th end against team Alberta during their draw during the 2014 Tim Hortons Brier curling championships in Kamloops, British Columbia March 7, 2014. (REUTERS)
Jean-Michel Menard isn’t out there on the cash tour with Jeff Stoughton, Kevin Koe or John Morris.
He doesn’t collect CTRS points to qualify for the Roar of the Rings to give himself a chance to curl for Canada at the Olympics.
For Menard, who triumphed to become the first Francophone skip to win a Brier back in 2006, it’s all about competing against those guys at the Brier.
Now he’s one of them in the final four on the final weekend at the Brier. And he’s the only skip on the property who can claim he beat everybody else who made it to the playoffs.
Menard lost four games here but beat all the big boys — B.C.’s Morris 7-4, Manitoba’s Stoughton 9-7 and, in the final draw of the round robin Friday morning, Alberta’s Koe 7-5.
That set him up to watch Morris and Koe battle Friday night in the 1-2 game and a spot against Manitoba in Saturday afternoon’s 3-4 game.
“These guys are almost professional. They curl all the time and they’re awesome curlers,” said the 38-year-old human resources manager for the Government of Canada, who plays with third Martin Crete, second Eric Sylvain and lead Phillippe Menard.
“For us, the way we curl, the way we practice ... we practice a lot, don’t get me wrong. But we can not aim to make it to the trials and qualify in every Grand Slam.
“The type of team we are, we only have to focus on one thing. Our goal is to come to the Brier. To make it here, that’s the event we give it the all in. And this year it’s paid off pretty well.
“We’re really happy. And we’re really proud of ourselves.
Is there any other team that enjoys being here more than his team?
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’ve been watching the Brier since 1989 and I’ve been enjoying this event ever since I was a kid and now I am here with my seventh trip and I love it as much as my first time.”
Menard is always a tough out at the Brier. Except this time he isn’t out.
“I think as a team we probably played our best this game of the week for our team,” said Menard when he left the ice after having personally out-curled Koe 89% to 76% and 88% to 79% as a team.
“It was a clutch performance. We knew we had to win. And here we are from being 3-4 to 7-4 and in the playoffs without a tie-breaker. That’s pretty amazing.”
“In 2009 we had a good run. We were 7-4 and lost the tie-breaker against Jeff Stoughton. Ever since then we’ve been 6-5 and a bad performance in 2008 (4-7) in Winnipeg. So coming back here and having a rough mid-week and finishing the round robin with four straight wins, it feels pretty good. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Our goal was to make it to the playoffs and then you never know what’s going to happen.
“The three teams which finished 9-2 ,we were fortunate enough to beat all of them, so if there’s still some magic in our bag, we’ll try to use it.”
There was a chance for Quebec to end up in a tie-breaker against Saskatchewan. Steve Laycock led James Grattan 7-6 with hammer going into the 10th end on the next sheet to the Quebec-Alberta game.
But Laycock gave the game away in the final end, giving Grattan a steal of three and a 9-6 win.
“Tough way to lose. We missed seven of eight shots that end,” said Laycock of dashing the hopes of a Grey Cup-Brier double for a province which hasn’t won a men’s curling title since 1980.
“We had a lot of people cheering for us in the background. I got a text from Newfoundland the night before,” said Grattan.
“It happened so quick. We won our game and there was a chance. We thought we were in for a little while. It looked good and then about three minutes later there wasn’t one,” he said of Quebec closing the door on Alberta on the next sheet.
Grattan gave it a heck of a go. This is a guy who lost his first two games 13-5 and 10-1.
“I’m pretty proud of the guys. We had a 1-5 start and here we were on Friday playing and for a split second there we thought we were going to be in some sort of tie-breaker playoff and that doesn’t happen very often.”
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