Stoughton's lucky 7

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

SELKIRK -- Call it a triple whammy.

In one fell swoop, Jeff Stoughton won his record seventh Manitoba title, advanced to the Canadian men's curling championship and prevented one of his chief rivals from getting there.

Stoughton sunk defending champion Kerry Burtnyk 7-6 in the Safeway Championship final at the Selkirk Recreation Complex yesterday.

"It feels great," Stoughton said. "I don't ever count them or wonder. If this is the last one, then that's fantastic. If not, then there's more to come."

There was more on the line for this provincial final than there was in the previous six. Stoughton's squad is chasing one of the last two direct paths into the 2009 Canadian Curling Trials and can collect a fistful of Canadian Team Ranking System (CTRS) points at the Brier.

"This is huge," said third Kevin Park, who was recruited from Alberta. "We've got a lot of points involved in getting to the Olympics. That's the main reason why I did this, because it is involved with the Olympics and it's all part of the process of earning points.

"If you're going to get in there, you've got to win a Purple Heart somewhere and obviously, this is the team to do it with."

Also supported by second Rob Fowler and lead Steve Gould, Stoughton will represent Manitoba at the Brier in Calgary, March 7-15.

"We're sitting in a position where we've got a chance at the three-year total in the CTRS," said Fowler, 33. "There's huge points available at the Brier. Obviously, Burtnyk's in that hunt as well. To have a chance to go and accumulate those points at the Brier is really driving us to not only win the Brier but towards the Olympic trials in December."

'I'm proud'

Stoughton won when Burtnyk's attempted freeze to his own rock in the back four-foot was two feet short.

"It's real disappointing," said Burtnyk, who was just as determined to get to the Brier and its CTRS points. "We had a chance to win the province and go to the Brier and any chance you have that possibility, you want to take advantage of it.

"We knew coming in our chances were 50-50 and things just didn't go our way. I'm proud of the way we came back after losing our game Friday night and got into the final, and almost won it."

It is the fifth time that Assiniboine Memorial's Burtnyk -- who recruited Don Walchuk from Alberta to play third -- has failed to defend his title.

"It was a great battle," said Stoughton, 45. "We had lots of opportunities. We got off to a great start, (taking a 3-0 lead). So we were in a great position not to have to take too many chances so we played a little more conservative, and forced them to make some really good shots."

Stoughton, who curls out of Charleswood, was the last Manitoban to win the Brier in 1999.

"We're so looking forward to getting to Calgary and playing in that Brier," said Stoughton, who also won in 1996. "I am very proud of (winning seven Manitoba titles) and I couldn't have done it without the great teammates that I've got. Hopefully, lucky seven will get that Brier back.

"We were pretty close to where we wanted to be and we said all year that our No. 1 goal was to win this Safeway Championship, and it was great to achieve it."

Gould, 36, won his fourth provincial crown.

"They're all incredible," he said. "I'm so lucky, I always play with the best teammates. Rob and Kevin were outstanding and any time you've got the short, blond-haired guy throwing last, you're going to put yourself into a ton of positions to win.

"(But) I honestly could care less about the Olympic trials and all that other stuff."

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca


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