Lunch Box's run began with a handshake

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:09 PM ET

SELKIRK -- If Randy Dutiaume's dream comes true and he wins a trip to the Brier today, he might want to slip a thank-you card in the mail to a little-known skip from Fort Rouge, a fellow named Wayne O'Keefe. Because it was a simple handshake from O'Keefe that sparked the roll Dutiaume and his brand new Valour Road rink are on right now.

You've heard of the fine line between winning and losing? This story redefines it.

It was the opening game of the MCA Bonspiel. Dutiaume, just days earlier, had dismantled his team because, in his words, they "absolutely stunk" in the city zones.

Desperately wanting a berth in the provincial championship, he signed up third Dave Elias and lead Shane Kilgallen, both former Manitoba winners, to join him and Greg Melnichuk just before the MCA.

Their first trial by fire was "like a 15-round boxing match," Dutiaume was saying yesterday.

CHOSE TO SHAKE HANDS

The bout ended when O'Keefe, facing four Dutiaume counters, chose to shake hands instead of attempting a makeable tap-back with his last rock.

"I was running to shake his hand," Dutiaume recalled. "I didn't want him to change his mind."

A few days later, Dutiaume ran into O'Keefe and asked him for an explanation.

"I said, 'Wayne, why did you do that?' " Dutiaume said. "He says, 'Because you guys could go on and do something, and we couldn't. We'd given you the best game that we could, and we were just happy with that.' I shook his hand said, 'I really appreciate that.'"

With that, Dutiaume began to roll, going 16-1 in the MCA to earn a spot in the provincials, then 6-1 here, taking him all the way to today's winner-take-all final.

"It's just been an unbelievable run," Dutiaume finally allowed. "For putting a team together three weeks ago, we're doing pretty good."

Don't kid yourself, though. This run is more than a few weeks in the making.

At least, it is in Dutiaume's mind, where he's been picturing himself in this position for the last couple of years.

Even though he's 42, Dutiaume is still like the hockey-playing kid who hits the outdoor rink all by himself, night after night, dreaming about making the NHL.

If he's near the club, he'll stop by and throw rocks. Doesn't matter if the ice is pebbled or not.

"It's just like that kid that's scoring that goal on Ken Dryden," Dutiaume said. "It's the game that wins the Stanley Cup. It's the rock you hit the button with. I think about that. I certainly dream about it."

Why, you ask? Same reason as the kid.

"Because I love it," Dutiaume said. "I absolutely love the game."

But he's never been this close to his dream before.

Ask what winning a provincial title would mean to him, though, and he refuses to go there, as if afraid to jinx it. He won't read about himself in the paper, or listen to reports on the radio.

Even after beating four-time champ Jeff Stoughton yesterday, the "Lunch Box," as Dutiaume called himself earlier this week, kept a lid on his excitement.

"I pack my lunch, I go to work in the morning, Dave puts the broom down, I throw the right weight," he said. "That's what I do. That's my job."

And the job's not done for at least another day.

Actually, we'll let you in on a little secret: Dutiaume's sights are set higher than a Manitoba title.

All those practice shots at the club are, in his mind, game-winners on an even bigger stage. The Brier, we presume?

"And the worlds," Dutiaume said, allowing himself to go there for a moment. "I want the whole package. But ... I'm not taking anything for granted."

Of course not.

Because from now on, nobody's going to be extending a hand to concede anything.

O'Keefe was right, though.

These guys could go on and do something.


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