11/13/2015 17:26 EST | Updated 11/13/2016 00:12 EST

Wayne Middaugh still in form with longtime teammate Howard after taking year off

OSHAWA, Ont. — Wayne Middaugh's curling resume is loaded no matter what happens this season or in the future.

It's one of the reasons his return to the sport has been so smooth. The three-time world champion took a break from competitive curling last season and feels no pressure now that he has returned to play with longtime teammate Glenn Howard.

"There's still a drive to play in all these events," Middaugh said. "The best thing probably for me is I'm at a stage in my career where I do it because I want to. It's not because I need to. It makes no difference to my career if I win another Brier or another worlds.

"It'd be nice, but I do it because I really love the game and I want to do it. It's that simple."

Adam Spencer filled in for Middaugh at the start of the season while the 48-year-old handled his duties as general manager of the Port Carling Golf & Country Club. Middaugh returned to his vice-skip position last month with Howard at skip, Richard Hart at second and Scott Howard at lead.

The Howard team lost a tiebreaker at The Masters two weeks ago in Truro, N.S., but the foursome has played well at The National at General Motors Centre this week, taking a 2-1 record into Friday's late-afternoon game against Winnipeg's Mike McEwen.

Middaugh didn't want to commit to a full-time schedule last season but still made occasional appearances. He filled in for skip Brendan Bottcher at the Players' Championship in Toronto and guided his team to the semifinals.

In addition to missing regular top-flight competition, Middaugh longed for the camaraderie and time with friends. When he returned this season, it was business as usual on the ice.

"If I could pick one person to do that scenario, he's the man, because he just doesn't miss a beat," Howard said.

Like a golfer who hasn't played all year and calmly crushes his first drive down the fairway, Middaugh's confidence never wavers.

"It's from 30 years of playing, 30 years of experience," he said this week. "I know what I'm capable of, what I can do and what I can't do with the rock to make it go to the right spot. Also you look at your teammates and who you've got with you.

"I've got Glenn down there reading the ice and calling line and I've got two fantastic sweepers so how can you not be confident?"

The skip and vice-skip have a natural chemistry that comes from years of playing together at the elite level and also just for fun. Middaugh said Howard is like a big brother to him, and they still play regular league games with their wives Tuesday nights at the Penetanguishene Curling Club.

Howard, who won his first world title back in 1987, is showing he can still hang with the top skips in the country at age 53. 

Lineup changes were made after a disappointing 2014-'15 season, with Jon Mead and Craig Savill replaced by Middaugh and Scott Howard. Hart moved to second and now with Middaugh back in the fold, the team is becoming more consistent each time out.  

This season's main goal is to get back to the Tim Hortons Brier. Making a run at qualifying for the 2018 Winter Games could also be in the cards.

How long Middaugh will be on hand remains a question mark though.

"It's season by season, heck it's event to event," Middaugh said with a chuckle. "You know I'm not getting any younger. It's the same thing. Life still sometimes gets in the way. We've got busy things going all the time. It's non-stop. I wish I could tell you differently.

"But this is what I'm doing this week and next week, we'll see what it brings."


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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press