Stoughton's new look

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

Because the reigning Manitoba champion will be grooming two new recruits next season, he is uncertain as to whether he is still eligible for an exemption into the 2007 Safeway Select.

Jeff Stoughton knows he has lost the one as the defending champ because you need three of the four players on the team to move forward. But the one awarded to Manitoba's top point-getter on the Canadian Team Ranking System may still be a possibility.

"I don't know how the CTRS one works," Stoughton said yesterday. "I know (Ontario's) Wayne Middaugh didn't lose any points when he changed his team."

Stoughton is the runaway winner amongst Manitobans in that points race, with Dave Boehmer a distant second. But Boehmer has three new recruits so Virden's Graham Freeman would be next in line.

Manitoba Curling Association executive director Ian Staniloff was also unsure as to how the CTRS exemption will work but believed that team should also maintain three original players. The exemption awarded to the defending champ will be added to the MCA's annual bonspiel in 2007.

Stoughton got into this bind when his long-time third, Jon Mead, decided to take a year off to spend more time with his family, as the Sun related yesterday. And, as first reported on The Curling News weblog, Mead will be replaced by Brandon's Rob Fowler (who will play second). Previously, Ryan Fry had been added to replaced retiring second Garry Van Den Berghe and will now move up to third, Stoughton confirmed.

But Stoughton was disappointed to lose Mead.

"Oh yeah, but I totally understood where he was coming from," he said. "He was a great player and we got along well both on and off the ice, and he will be missed."

Stoughton plans a lighter schedule next season to give him a chance to recoup from a long year.

"But there are two or three opportunities to get an Olympic trials spot next year and we'll be trying to get back to the Select and win it," he said, referring to winning the Brier, the Players' Championship and/or the CTRS points race.

"I haven't had a major change since Jon and Doug Armstrong came on board in 1999 and we went to the world final," Stoughton said. "It's going to be challenging because we don't know each other that well. But it makes it exciting to kick off the year with new guys."

Fowler had committed to Freeman "but he totally understood.

"It was just too good an offer to get us back to going for what Jeff is going for (Olympics)," he said.

Van Den Berghe has decided not to play the last two events so, Gary Poole will replace him at this weekend's World Curling Tour event in Victoria while Fry will play second at the Players' Championship later this month.

Stoughton, by the way, has yet to get a decision on his appeal of a $1,000 fine at the Brier.

OOPS: It was Manitoba's Jim Coleman who won the gold medal at the Optimist International Under-18 Championships in Calgary last weekend. Incorrect information appeared in the Sun. Our humble apologies for the error.


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