Champ loses magic touch

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:15 PM ET

It's mid-afternoon, Day 2 of the Canadian Open, and this reporter is hunting for the Lunch Box.

You may know him as Randy Dutiaume, reigning Manitoba men's curling champ. Curling's regular guy, a quote machine who reminded us all what can be so fun about the sport when he rollicked his way to the provincial title last year, then wowed them at the Brier.

Thing is, that Brier semifinal seems like a century ago.

Because these days, Dutiaume looks like he'd have trouble winning a high school bonspiel.

Yesterday's first draw, a loss to local lad Dave Boehmer, dropped Dutiaume to 0-2 here and left him hanging by a thread -- just the latest setback in a season that's been as forgettable as a day-old steak sandwich.

Someone suggested we'd find him down at the pub in the downtown rink, and sure enough, there he was, hunkered down over a late lunch with teammates Dave Elias and Shane Kilgallen.

No, they weren't drowning their sorrows. But they weren't celebrating, either.

"You throw the rock, you sweep the rock, you kick the rock -- and then you say !#$%!," Kilgallen said, describing the season.

"We're not firing on all eight cylinders," added Elias. "One cylinder is out -- our brain."

And so it goes, four guys who can't for the life of them figure out where the magic has gone.

Where last season they stole points, this year they're giving them away. Come-arounds have become rubs, draws flubbed.

They call it being on the wrong side of the inch, and it's left Dutiaume miles behind pretty much everyone else on the cash circuit: ranked 31st on the Manitoba Tour, 101st on the World Tour.

"The magic?" Dutiaume repeated, as though the word were foreign. "If it's not one thing, it's another. It's one of those things in sport. You go from such a high calibre and high quality of curling, and now we're just struggling to stay in the game."

Not to mention struggling to stay away from each other's throats.

"We're getting down on each other," Dutiaume said. "There's not that positive reinforcement, that word you need to say ... I always thought there was some light at the end of the tunnel, but *%#$!, that tunnel's gettin' pretty long."

The skip admits he's had to call a "bitch session" to clear the air.

So far, no punches have been thrown.

"A little tension," is how Elias described the mood. "We're not kissing each other."

Actually, it seems if Team Dutiaume has retained anything from 2005, it's a sense of humour about the whole mess.

Asked why second Greg Melnichuk wasn't at the lunch table, Elias offered this gem.

"Maybe he's kicked us off the team," Elias cracked. "He might be on another squad right now."

As much as they can still laugh about it, it's not so easy to explain to family and friends.

'WE'RE TRYING'

"They're all over me," Dutiaume said. "Saying, 'What the *%$#! are you guys doing?' Man, we're trying as hard as we can."

The Lunch Box actually saw some good signs in the loss to Boehmer. But he knew his playoff chances this week hung on yesterday's late-afternoon match with Saskatchewan's Bruce Korte.

"If we lose, we're toast," Dutiaume said.

A few hours later, the toast of the province was just that, scorched 8-2.

"The saga continues," Dutiaume said, shaking his head. "We're done. All we can play for is pride."

Actually, they've got one other thing to play for.

Remember, this foursome didn't even get together until mid-January last year, using the MCA bonspiel to get on a roll that took it all the way to the Brier playoffs.

"Our season doesn't start until the 15th," Elias suggested.

In some ways, they're right where they were 12 months ago.

They weren't a team then, and they're not much of one now.


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