Top 'Toba squads came up short in 2009

JIM BENDER, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 12:35 PM ET

No matter how anyone will try to twist it, most of Manitoba's success on the pebble over the past season will remain under a dark cloud of disappointment.

That is because St. Vital's Jennifer Jones failed to convert her incredible success on the ice over the past four years into an Olympic appearance.

Rather shockingly, one of the best teams in Canadian women's curling history could not even make it to a tie-breaker at the Canadian Curling Trials in Edmonton.

Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton, who works full-time, did at least make it to the playoffs in Edmonton before bowing out to two teams that curl almost full-time. He lost the semifinal to Ontario's Glenn Howard.

The Jones disappointment spoiled what could have become a legacy encroaching on that of the late Sandra Schmirler and her Olympic gold-medal team.

For the second straight year, Jones capped off yet another comeback to win her second consecutive Canadian crown, earning a ballot as a finalist in the Manitoba Team of the Year race once again (she won last year). While she did fail to medal at the Worlds, her foursome at least made the playoffs.

While Jones was doing her thing as Team Canada at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Victoria, B.C., Manitoba champion Barb Spencer posted a provincial record for futility when she finished with a lowly 2-9 record -- which was also rather disappointing. And she didn't qualify for the pre-trials.

Stoughton proved that making it to the 2009 Brier final was no fluke when he qualified for the playoffs at the trials. But he lost that one to Alberta nemesis Kevin Martin. Jack Stoughton, Jeff's dad, suffered a heart attack during that Brier final and we will never know if the outcome would have been different otherwise.

Stoughton added Alberta's Kevin Park as his third to replace the departed Ryan Fry and Park helped his skipper win a record seventh Manitoba men's title in Selkirk. Park also helped Stoughton sail through the pre-trials event undefeated.

Competitive

One of the biggest surprises of the season was that Manitoba's Jason Gunnlaugson earned a Canadian Curling Trials spot through the pre-trials event while skipping for the first time. Then, he proved to be both competitive and popular despite going winless at the trials.

One more disappointment was that Manitoba's Mike McEwen, another star of the future, failed to make it to the trials.

But Pembina's Kaitlyn Lawes skipped the best squad out of Manitoba last year.

Lawes not only won her second straight national junior women's crown, she brought home a medal from the world championship for the second straight season.

This time, though, Lawes earned a silver after losing the final in a close one. Lawes then joined Alberta's Cathy King as her third but they failed to qualify at the pre-trials tournament. Lawes has also been voted as a finalist for Team of the Year for the second straight time.

Speaking of medals, Manitoba's Sean Grassie and Allison Nimik represented Canada at the World Mixed Doubles Championship, where they won the bronze.

Meanwhile, Manitoba's Lois Fowler finished third at the national senior women's championship and Dave Boehmer finished third at his first Canadian Mixed championship.

The CCA also introduced a new event, the Dominion Curling Club Championship for the second-tier curler, which proved to be very popular. Manitoba's Riki Komyshyn finished second at the nationals while Bart Witherspoon was third.

Off the ice, MCA executive director Shane Ray enjoyed his first year at the position and oversaw the change to Curl Manitoba. This season's schedule has been radically altered to squeeze events in around the Olympics and changing HQ's on the fly didn't help.

The year wrapped up with St. Vital's Breanne Meakin -- the only one left in junior from the Lawes championship squad -- and Deer Lodge's Alex Forrest winning their respective Manitoba junior championships, and promise remains for the immediate future.

But that immediate future must include radical changes to the qualifying process for a number of provincial championships, if not all of them.

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca


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