New team, same old local success.
Charleswood's Jeff Stoughton sailed through the Safeway Select city zone playdowns, earning his 18th trip to the men's provincial playdowns despite two brand new teammates.
And Stoughton will attempt to defend his championship at the Select, to be held in Dauphin, Feb. 7-11.
"Yeah, I guess by name we're defending, but not by team because we didn't get an exemption for the defending champion," Stoughton said after defeating Deer Lodge's Mike Mahon 6-2 in a B-side final at the Elmwood Curling Club yesterday.
Because Ryan Fry and Rob Fowler replaced third Jon Mead and second Garry Van Den Berghe, respectively, Stoughton lost his exemption because you need three returning members.
"It's special any time you get back there," said Stoughton, who won a record fifth Manitoba men's title last year. "We knew we were going to have to play five or six good games and we pulled it off, so it's no more special than any other year.
"It's one step closer to getting back to the Brier and that's where we want to be so we're looking forward to that one."
Lost at trials
Stoughton, however, could have lived without last year's trip to the Brier, not long after losing the Olympic trials final to Newfoundland's Brad Gushue.
"The only good thing (last season) is that we won the Slam in Winnipeg and we won the provincials again," he said. "We went to the Brier and we were burned out and fried. It was a waste of time for us to even have gone, looking back on it. We really had no chance to win that thing."
But this year's Brier is one of four routes to qualify for the Olympic trials qualifying tourney. Stoughton, who still has Steve Gould at lead, has already qualified for the Canada Cup and is almost assured of a spot in the Players' Championship.
Although the new outfit is rounding into form, Stoughton is still adjusting to Fry at third.
"It's hard," he admitted. "I mean, Jon was like your right-hand man for so many years. He was always there and you always knew exactly what you were going to get out of him and that's sort of been the learning curve with Ryan.
"He's a great player and he's doing all the good things that he can do.
"We're just getting very comfortable with each other.
"You can't replace a guy like Jon Mead but Ryan's stepping in and trying to fill those shoes."
Mead, who took at least a year off, has been advising his replacement.
"Jon's been great," said Fry, 28. "Any time you're coming in and replacing a guy who's had that much success ... it's going to be tough. But you take the advice and you learn as a team, and we're starting to click."