Tough trials ahead

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

HALIFAX -- The preliminary rounds are over for the Buffalo Boys and it is time to put up their dukes for the heavyweight bouts.

Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton nipped B.C.'s Pat Ryan 7-6 in an extra end at the Halifax Metro Centre yesterday to improve to 3-1 and grab a three-way share of second spot at the Canadian Curling Trials.

Stoughton called it a must-win match before the showdown and considering who's left on his schedule, that was no understatement.

"A must-win because 3-1 looks better than 2-2," Stoughton said. "At 2-2, you're looking at winning your last five games to guarantee ya something, or at least four. This way, we need three wins to get to six, which has gotten in (the three-team playoffs) every year. That's what we're gunning for."

Stoughton heads into today's play tied with Alberta's Olympic silver medallist Kevin Martin and John Morris. But he faces Alberta's 1-3 Randy Ferbey this morning, then Newfoundland's Brad Gushue, now at 4-0, tonight.

"(Today's) going to be a long day," Stoughton conceded. "A lot of things can happen in a two-game day. All of a sudden, you're 3-3 or sitting real good at 5-1.

"We've just got to come out hard (this) morning. We're playing a pretty desperate team. They really can't lose any more so, it will be a tough game for them. There will be pressure on them and there will also be pressure on us to eliminate them in a sense, to get them to four losses. We hope to get Ferbey right on the bubble with four losses. The quicker you get rid of them, the better it is because they're a top team."

Surprise

Then there's Gushue, who has been the surprise of the trials after recruiting veteran Russ Howard to call the shots and throw second stones.

"Obviously, they're playing lights-out right now and hopefully, we're going into that game to bring them down to one loss with us -- if we can win in the morning," Stoughton said.

Some believe Gushue has been fuelled by suggestions by Stoughton and several others that adding Howard would mess up his team's chemistry.

"I wouldn't say we were motivated by it," Gushue said. "I just couldn't understand the negative stuff when you're bringing in one of the greatest players to ever play the game and a guy who gets along very well with the team. But I was motivated enough before this event started, before we even decided to have Russ on the team."

Stoughton simply shrugged off any perceived war of words.

"To me, it's just another game," he said. "We've got to beat him. Personally, I don't put a lot of emphasis on, 'He said, she said.' If Ferbey says, 'I'm guaranteeing a win against Stoughton,' that's fine, whatever he wants to say."

But Stoughton predicted Gushue will likely lose before the week ends.

"It's going to be awfully hard for Gushue to go through undefeated," he said. "That's a tough call. If he does, then they've played phenomenal all week."

But the Manitobans would settle for a split today.

"You've got the living legends (Ferbey) who have nothing to lose now," said Jon Mead, who leads all thirds in shooting percentage. "They've got to win out and are totally capable of it. So, I expect them to be at their best. If we split, we're probably pretty happy."

But this is the first time in three trials appearances that Stoughton is actually riding a hot streak after four games.

"We've won three in a row, everyone's feeling good," he said. "Last time, we never got going."

More curling trials, p.49


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