03/29/2012 03:56 EDT | Updated 05/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Ready to Rock: Howard leads experienced rink into world men's curling tourney

BASEL, Switzerland - Glenn Howard and his Ontario rink were feeling so energized after their win at the Tim Hortons Brier earlier this month, they wanted to hop on a plane for Switzerland and the world championship the next day.

They had to wait more than two weeks, but the skip from Tiny, Ont., says the team's impressive performance at the Canadian men's curling championship in Saskatoon is still fresh.

"We're feeling phenomenal, we're riding a high from the win," Howard said in a recent interview. "Confidence is at an all-time high and we're ready to go."

Howard lost only once en route to a 7-6 victory over Alberta's Kevin Koe in the final of the national championship.

The 49-year-old skip leads an experienced rink into the March 31-April 8 world championship. The three-time world champ will be joined by third Wayne Middaugh, second Brent Laing and lead Craig Savill.

Howard will open the 12-team event Saturday against France. Canada's stiffest competition will likely come from Norway's Thomas Ulsrud, Scotland's Tom Brewster and Sweden's Niklas Edin.

"It's almost old hat for them," Howard said of his competition. "I don't think there's that much pressure on them. They go in, they play well, they're loose and if they don't win this year they've got a good chance to go back next year. That's the difference with the rest of the world and Canada.

"Whereas Canadians, you go to a world championship, you think this is your last and probably is your last and you have to play accordingly. There's a little bit more pressure on us but I also believe that we're hungry and we want to win."

Howard's last world title came in 2007 with Laing, Savill and Richard Hart. Middaugh joined the team prior to this season after Hart's retirement.

It has been 25 years since Howard won his first world championship as a third for his brother Russ. Middaugh joined the brothers as a second on the squad that won gold in 1993 and he won another title as skip of Canada's 1998 entry.

With that kind of success and experience, the target will be squarely on Canada's back.

"When you're playing with Glenn Howard, every time you play with him you're one of the favourites," Middaugh said. "It's because he's so good and has such a consistent track record year after year.

"That's a great position to be in."

Howard said the quality of competition has steadily improved since he made his world championship debut.

"In '87 it was OK, '93 was OK, 2007 was remarkable and now I know in 2012 it will be unbelievable," he said.

Howard added that there are two or three teams in the elite curling countries who are just as strong as the top Canadian rinks.

"The difference between Canada and the rest of the world is the gap is getting smaller and smaller," he said. "It's not that we're getting worse, it's just that they're getting that much better and catching up to us and on an equal scale now. So we've got our hands full.

"That being said, I do believe that winning the Brier is usually a little bit harder. But it's come to the point now where it's almost even with some of the teams that are going to be there at the world championships this year."

Middaugh has looked solid since joining Howard's rink again. There is a great rhythm even though the team is still jelling as a foursome.

"It's still happening," Middaugh said. "I think we get better every event. Every game we play we get a little bit better and a little bit stronger."

Other teams in the field include China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, the United States and host Switzerland.

Round-robin play concludes April 5. Tiebreakers, if required, would be played the following day before the playoffs begin April 7.

Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton edged Scotland 6-5 in last year's final in Regina. It was Canada's 33rd world championship since the first event was held in 1959.

Howard can't wait to get started at this year's competition.

"I really love the direction the team is going," he said. "There's no reason why we should stop now."