Shot at Olys 'bigger high'

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

His teammates have been there before but this is another first for Rob Fowler.

Fowler will be competing in his first Canadian Curling Trials in Edmonton, Dec. 6-13, as second for Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton, who sailed through the trials qualifier undefeated in Prince George, B.C. last week to earn the trip.

"It feels awesome," Fowler said yesterday. "I came close to going twice the last time when I was playing for Kerry (Burtnyk) and when I joined Jeff, it was all about going to the trials."

But first, Stoughton skipped Fowler into his first of two Brier competitions in 2007.

"The pre-trials is very different," Fowler said. "That provincial final in Dauphin was all-or-nothing and to win to go to a Brier was a dream. The game we won to go to the trials was not all-or-nothing (they still would have had two lives left), but going to the trials, with what is at stake, is even a bigger high. It makes me tingle just thinking about it."

What is at stake is a chance to represent Canada at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Stoughton, who is making his fourth trip to the trials, came within a horsehair of winning the last one, losing the final to eventual gold-medal winner Brad Gushue.

"That's the only loss in my life I still think about," said Steve Gould, the Stoughton lead who was so emotional after that loss that he could not talk. "That and the loss to (Brent) Scales (2004 Manitoba final). But I think about that loss to Brad Gushue every day of my life. I'm sure Jeff and (former third) Jon (Mead) feel the same way. Every time we get together for a beer or something, we think about it and just shake our heads. I don't dwell on it, though."

Mead, who now plays third for Ontario's Wayne Middaugh, also earned a trip back to the trials in B.C., and former Stoughton second Garry VanDenBerghe called to congratulate him.

"Garry said, 'Are you sure you want to go through that again, Jon?' But if you want something that big, you've got to be willing to put your head on the line and get ready to have it chopped off," Gould said.

"Certainly, you don't want to experience that kind of loss again," Stoughton admitted. "We didn't like the taste of that defeat the first time."

Jason Gunnlaugson and Jennifer Jones will also be there from Manitoba.

Because Mead is going with a different team, there's a remote chance the two could meet in the final.

"One of us would be pretty darn happy," Stoughton suggested.

"It would be quite a thing to play them in the final," said Mead, who still lives in Winnipeg. "I wouldn't want to beat Jeff in the final, but I wouldn't want to lose to him, either."

Of course, they'd have to beat some pretty impressive squads to get that far.

"No disrespect to (Alberta's) Randy Ferbey or Kevin Koe or anybody else but it's unfortunate it's not just a seven-game playoff between Kevin Martin and Glenn Howard because they are both so professional in every sense of the word," Mead said. "One of them should be in the final, for sure. The rest of us will be playing for the third and last playoff spot."

Yet, Stoughton proved his relatively new team is capable of getting that far when it got to the Brier final last year in a field that included Martin and Howard, losing to the former.

"There and in Prince George, we learned what it takes to win in pressure-packed games," Stoughton said.

And these will be the most pressure-packed they have ever played.

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca


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