EDMONTON - A pair of familiar faces were on top as the men's round robin at the Canadian Olympic curling trials was drawing to a close Thursday.
Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont. and Edmonton's Kevin Martin had already secured the two top playoff positions with key wins in Thursday's morning draw.
Although Howard remained perfect at 6-0 after rolling to an 8-6 win over Randy Ferbey - first place and the accompanying berth in Sunday's final still had not been determined.
Martin, the reigning Canadian men's champion, remained one game back at 5-1 after an 8-7 extra end victory over Kevin Koe.
Howard and Martin were to meet in the final draw. A Howard win would give him first place and a loss would move Martin into the final.
"We've had some battles over the years and it's probably 50-50 - we've won half and he's won half and usually epic battles. I'm really hoping for a similar sort of games that we played in the Brier last year with a little different outcome," said Howard.
"Those two games last year were unbelievable. He's one of the best in the world, if not the best, so we've got our hands full."
The same scenario played out at the Brier in Calgary where Howard went undefeated throughout the championship and then narrowly lost the final round robin game and then the one-vs-two playoff game to Martin.
Howard said his team is playing better at the trials then it did at the Brier.
"We got away with a couple of early ones - we didn't play our best but we got away with a few," said Howard, a former Brier and world champion.
"Every game we're getting better and that's what you want. Hopefully that will continue into the playoffs and we've done that for five years so I don't see why that won't continue into the playoffs."
Martin, who won the trials in 2001 and won silver at the 2002 Olympics, said he is about where he expected to be.
"We said 5-2 and we can't be worse than that and we have a chance for first. I'd say it was all we could expect for sure," he said.
"The guys are playing really well but it will be a tough game tonight for sure."
Winnipeg's Jeff Stoughton was one win away from securing the final playoff spot. Wayne Middaugh, who at one point was leading Stoughton 5-1, gave up steals in the 10th and 11th ends to give him a 7-6 win and a new lease on life.
"I was getting the broom bag out. I honestly didn't think he would miss that," said Stoughton.
"We were fortunate that Wayne came a little heavy with his last one and we're going to take it because we haven't had very many good breaks go for us so that was our big one so we certainly needed it."
Stoughton was to face Pat Simmons of Davidson, Sask. in the final draw.
Ferbey was still shaking his head after the loss to Howard. The turning point was in the ninth end when Dave Nedohin, who throws fourth stones, missed a double takeout and gave up a steal of two.
"It was really a well played game by both teams. I don't know how much better we can play but that was probably our best effort the whole six games we played and to come out on the losing end of it was somewhat of a sour note," he said.
The men's semifinal at the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings Curling Trials, presented by Monsanto, will be played Saturday afternoon.