Final showdown

Team Stoughton skip Jeff Stoughton (right) is congratulated by Team John Morris coach Earle Morris...

Team Stoughton skip Jeff Stoughton (right) is congratulated by Team John Morris coach Earle Morris (left) at the conclusion of the men's semifinal at the Canadian Curling Trials in Halifax, N.S. on Friday, Dec. 9, 2005. (CP PHOTO/Ryan Taplin)

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:04 PM ET

HALIFAX -- Maybe it was the realization of just how close they are to becoming Olympians for the first time.

Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton almost blew a 6-1 lead but still managed to edge Alberta's John Morris 8-6 in the Canadian Curling Trials men's semifinal before 8,346 fans at the Halifax Metro Centre last night. And Stoughton needed to draw to the button with the hammer facing two in the 10th for the victory.

"It's hard to say, maybe we got too tight," Stoughton suggested. "Maybe that was the problem. We obviously had some struggles peeling and they were capitalizing on it."

But his Charleswood foursome got off to a good start, stealing three in the fourth -- thanks to a Morris miss -- and another single in five.

"We came out a little flat and it was tough to get down 5-1 against a team like Stoughton," said Morris, who was on the verge of tears with his voice cracking. "But we battled really hard. I'm really proud of the guys. It's a tough, a tough loss ... I guess it just wasn't meant to be."

Stoughton was on fire going into the game but stumbled attempting to prevent Morris from mounting a comeback.

"Absolutely, you sit back and kind of go through the motions," said second Garry Van Den Berghe, who readily admitted that he was guilty of the most misses. "At the end, things got a little tighter so, it was good."

And they did not seem concerned as they get today off the prepare to play Newfoundland's Brad Gushue in tomorrow's final, to be televised by CBC at 11:30 a.m., with a trip to the Olympics in Turin, Italy, on the line.

"You couldn't ask for anything more," Stoughton said. "I mean, one win and we're going to the Olympics. It's phenomenal. One big game is all you can hope for, it doesn't matter who it's against. It would be a dream-come-true for all of us. It would be fantastic."

Third Jon Mead was asked how it feels to be so close.

"Wow, three seconds from puking, I think," he responded.

"Who doesn't want to be here? This is exactly where we want to be but, on the other side, I'm not sure it's that much fun at times.

"It's hard out there. We know people are watching and we all know what's on the line. Sometimes, that creeps into the front of your brain instead of the back of your brain when all you should be thinking about is throwing shots. So, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else but there will be a day when I'm very happy that this whole thing is over, too."

Lead Steve Gould did not want to even think about Italy until tomorrow night.

"I'm going to think about it either way Sunday night but I don't think about it beforehand," he said. "It's a lot closer than we were in the beginning of the week but we've got a tough team ahead of us.

"Obviously they're playing great. They only lost one game this week and it's tough to beat the same team in the same week."

Uh, Gushue. That would be the team that Stoughton suggested has no chance to win the trials, believing that adding veteran Russ Howard so late would ruin the squad's chemistry. And when Gushue was beating Stoughton in the round robin -- Morris was the only other squad to defeat him -- some fans held up 'No Chance?' signs in the crowd.

"Oh, it will come up again," Gould said with a smile. "You know it will come up. And Jeff won't want to eat crow so, that's good."

Van Den Berghe concurred.

"I'm sure we'll hear about it," he predicted. "I couldn't care less."


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