High expectations for Trials

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:50 AM ET

You've got to love the brashness and exuberance of youth.

Manitoba's Mike McEwen has yet to compete in a Brier but he was still talking about winning his way into the Winter Olympics -- this year.

McEwen has been seeded No. 4 for the Road to the Rings event in Prince George, B.C. next week. Four of the 12 men's teams competing there will advance to the Canadian Curling Trials in Edmonton, Dec. 6-13.

"The expectations on our team is to definitely be in Edmonton," McEwen said yesterday. "It would be a pretty big disappointment if we're not in the trials."

And he didn't stop there.

"We've progressively shown that we've gotten better and better and we're definitely capable of winning the whole thing this year," said McEwen, 29. "It's not far out of reach. You look at the past winners and two of three times, there's pretty much been a dark horse like we might be."

Both Newfoundland's Brad Gushue (2005) and Ontario's Mike Harris (1997) were dark horses who won the trials -- and Harris had never been to a Brier at the time, either.

Supported by third B.J. Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak and Denni Neufeld (B.J.'s brother), McEwen currently sits 12th on the World Curling Tour money list and he has been hot lately. In fact, he earned $7,000 for advancing to a semifinal at a WCT spiel in Brooks, Alta., last weekend.

"That was as tough a field as you're going to get and we seem to be able to rise to the occasion when we're in really difficult fields and I'm hoping that's the same kind of thing that's going to happen leading up to these big events," McEwen said. "We had a really good result ... so, I feel really good about our chances going into Prince George."

Also feeling rather good about his chances is Manitoba's Jason Gunnlaugson, who is skipping for the first time this season. Gunnlaugson won $5,000 for qualifying in Brooks a week after losing a WCT final to fellow Manitoban Kerry Burtnyk in Portage la Prairie.

"It seems like we've had our little peak right before the pre-trials here so hopefully, we can keep that going," said Gunnlaugson, 25. "I don't think we surprised ourselves. We're definitely right on or have exceeded our expectations at this point but it didn't happen by accident. The boys have put in a ton of work."

Supported by third Justin Richter, second Braden Zawada and Tyler Forrest, Gunnlaugson beat Manitoba's reigning champion Jeff Stoughton twice in those WCT spiels.

"After playing in the Brooks event, which had most of the top teams in Canada, and having a really good showing there, we believe that if we can continue that form, we're going to have a good shot in the pre-trials," said Gunnlaugson, who has been seeded No. 12 in a 12-team field. "I think we're still slightly flying under the radar but maybe not as much as before."

Their opponents in B.C. will be well aware of both of the confident Manitoba youngsters.

"Jason's team is a bunch of great guys and very good young curlers," said Burtnyk, who opens against Gunnlaugson. "They're getting better and better every year, and they've had a great start to this year. So, I think they're going to be excited and they're going to play well.

"We fully expect that and it's going to be interesting to see how things go for them because the pressure level is going to be high so, that can really be a tipping factor for them."

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca


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