The underdog flashed his snarly teeth throughout the opening draw of the Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings on Sunday, but his bark ultimately never proved to be as big as the proverbial bite.
Little-known Jason Gunnlaugson, of Beausejour, Man., talked a good game prior to his clash with No. 1 seed Kevin Martin, and he actually gave the Old Bear one before succumbing 7-5 on the opening night of the Olympic curling trials at Rexall Place.
The 25-year-old poker player even managed to win over some of the fans that were not only behind Martin, but fellow Edmonton rinks Randy Ferbey and Kevin Koe, who all moved to 1-0 after Day 1 of trials.
Martin got a battle out of the Manitoba youngster, and then some.
“I told you they were good, didn’t I?” Martin told the gathered media afterwards.
“Boy, after three or four ends it looked like they weren’t going to miss anything.”
After an opening steal of one put Martin ahead in the first end, Gunnlaugson settled right down and dictated some play. He tied it back up at 1-1 after two and had the nerve to steal a deuce in three as Martin ticked on his draw.
Gunnlaugson immediately motioned to the disappointing crowd of roughly 8,000 with the pump-it-up sign, waving his arms upward, after the thievery.
After allowing one to Gunnlaugson in the sixth, Martin took control with a deuce in seven and a steal of one in eight, but still had to make a draw inside the four-foot with his final stone to secure the win in the 10th.
“After we gave them the deuce in three, Johnny (Morris, his third) came down and said, ‘Listen, let’s just try and have the hammer coming home.’ That was the mindset and we managed to do that,” said a relieved Martin afterward.
“He (Gunnlaugson) just doesn’t play with any fear at all and that’s a scary guy to play. They’re going to win some curling games, for sure. We’re lucky they didn’t win one — tonight.”
What Gunnlaugson did do was win over some of those fans who knew precious little about the upstart.
“We put them to the test, which not everyone is going to do this week,” said Gunnlaugson.
“We executed our game plan to perfection; unfortunately the execution by myself wasn’t as good,” he added of his 73 per cent outing, a full 10 points behind Martin.
“I thought the fans were behind everyone, but it was great to have a few behind us,” Gunnlaugson added of swaying some cheers his way.
The fans also got a kick out of Ferbey’s impressive performance, recording a deuce in the opening end and adding three in each of the third and fifth to down Ontario’s Wayne Middaugh 9-7.
“The first end, Dave (Nedohin) made a couple of absolute perfect shots to set the tone in the game and then we did what we normally do, get a lot of rocks in play,” said Ferbey, who forced Middaugh into one with the hammer in the second and came back with the three to open up a 5-1 advantage.
“You could hear them cheering for the Edmonton teams out there a little bit and you could hear them cheering for Gunner a bit, now and again, too,” added Ferbey of the crowd.
Koe dumped Saskatchewan’s Pat Simmons 8-5 as his Edmonton foursome opened with a three in the first and won comfortably.
“That killed some of the nerves,” Koe admitted of the quick start. “I think we were all a little nervous to get going.”
In the tightest game of the night, Winnipeg’s Jeff Stoughton missed an open draw to the four-foot with his final stone to lose 5-4 to Glenn Howard of Coldwater, Ont.
“A little fortunate, for sure, on that last shot. You give Jeff a bucket of balls and he’ll always make it,” said Howard, who came back from a 4-2 deficit with two in the seventh before a pair of blanked ends.
Then came the critical mistake.
“It was too bad, I just threw it heavy,” said Stoughton. “There’s nothing you can do. I just threw it hard.”
Play resumes Monday with two women’s draws and one men’s draw.