Trials loss not easy to forget

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

The sting of losing the Olympic trials final may never totally disappear.

Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton dropped an 8-7 decision to Newfoundland's Brad Gushue in Halifax last month and it has been preying on his mind ever since.

"You come so close, it's tough," Stoughton conceded yesterday. "There's lots of reminders out there of the Olympics because it's obviously the biggest event coming up for winter sports this year. So yeah, I don't think it goes away yet. It's going to take some time."

But returning to the ice for the second Grand Slam event to be held at the MTS Centre, today through Sunday, could be both therapeutic and the first slide toward a new beginning.

"It's obviously tough to get back into the groove again after a tough loss and (Christmas) holidays," said Stoughton, who confirmed that second Garry Van Den Berghe has put retirement on hold. "We've been throwing rocks for a week now, trying to get back into the mood for playing and, once we get out there in front of the fans and a good atmosphere here, it will get the juices going and we'll try to do our best."

Last year's event proved to be a resounding success as an attendance record of 47,000 was set (since broken) and raised $45,000 for the Children's Hospital Foundation.

"The players, the committee and everyone was pleasantly surprised at how well it was received," Stoughton said. "The fans came out in droves, showed that Winnipeg is still a hotbed of curling and we're looking forward to maybe even bigger crowds this year. That would be awesome."

In fact, organizers say that they had already pre-sold $40,000 more worth of tickets than were pre-sold last year. Ducats are still available at Ticketmaster.

Stoughton failed to qualify last year.

"We were brutal," admitted Stoughton who opens against Alberta's Kevin Martin, last year's victor, tonight at 8. "But we want to perform in front of the home crowd. We certainly didn't do it last year. We've got four games to get our act together and hopefully, get to that qualifying round."

The winner gets $30,000 with $18,000 to the runner-up.

BITERS: Although Newfoundland's Brad Gushue credits the Slam events for honing his impressive curling skills, he believes that competing at the 2001 world junior men's championship in Salt Lake City, Utah gave him a taste of what to expect at the Olympics, including the curling venue and security concerns ... The latest Curling News reports that Gushue declined an invitation to move to Alberta to hook up with Kevin Martin last year.


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