Eight titles for 'primate'

Stoughton, Park, Fowler and Gould (from left) like their chances at the Brier in Halifax,...

Stoughton, Park, Fowler and Gould (from left) like their chances at the Brier in Halifax, especially with Kevin Martin not in the field because of the Olympics. (Marcel Cretain/Winnipeg Sun)

JIM BENDER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

STEINBACH -- He is still the King Kong of curling in Manitoba.

Charleswood's Jeff Stoughton fought off the challenge laid down by Assiniboine Memorial's Mike McEwen Sunday to win a record eighth Manitoba men's provincial championship.

But the alpha gorilla was taken right to the brink before retaining his belt as master of the Manitoba mountain.

Stoughton drew to the four-foot with the hammer in an extra end to nip McEwen 9-8 in the final of the Safeway Championship at the T.G. Smith Centre on Sunday.

'Very special'

"It's fantastic," Stoughton said of extending his provincial record to eight. "I don't think any words can describe it. We just love winning this thing.

"This is what's all about -- winning your provincial championship and getting into the Brier -- and it's still very, very special. And once our Olympic dream was done, we knew that this was what we wanted to do -- get to Halifax and get into that championship game again."

McEwen, who hung the King Kong label on Stoughton Saturday, blamed himself for the loss.

"I missed maybe three shots in that game that were pretty routine and that maybe would have turned things around and put us in the driver's seat in the end," he said.

"It feels a little surreal. We were going so well all week and for us, it was a single knockout. So it's a little disappointing because we didn't have our best game. We played a good last half but I struggled the first half. So it's kind of unfortunate and disappointing not having our best performance on the ice in that last game."

Supported by third Kevin Park, second Rob Fowler and Steve Gould, Stoughton will represent Manitoba at the Brier for the second straight year -- and third time in the last four -- in Halifax, March 6-14.

It's Gould's fifth Manitoba title, tying him for the record among non-skips with Bryan Wood and former teammate Garry VanDenBerghe.

"That's phenomenal," Gould said. "Honestly, it feels just like my first."

Stoughton finished third at the Canadian Curling Trials, then turned his focus towards getting back to the Brier.

"We played very well at those trials," said Park. "Had it not been for a hit there and a rub there, we could have been right there in Vancouver right now, so I think this bodes well for our trip to Halifax."

Also boding well is the fact Alberta's Kevin Martin, who beat Stoughton in last year's Brier final, will not be there.

"Kevin's obviously the best guy right now, so I guess the probabilities start to go up when he's not there, and when you're from Manitoba, you're going to go to the playoffs," Park said. "But (Alberta's) Kevin Koe's really strong."

Stoughton, who bounced Assiniboine Memorial's Kerry Burtnyk 6-4 in Sunday's semifinal, concurred.

"Oh yeah, it's great that he's not there, we don't have to worry about him," he said. "But, you know, Kevin Koe's team is awesome. They play us tough every time we play them, so they're going to be a top-four team just like we're a top-four team."

But it helps give the Buffalo boys a crack at winning Manitoba's first Brier since 1999 when a young man named Stoughton last turned the trick.

"It has been a long drought and hopefully we can make Manitoba proud again," Stoughton said. "Hopefully we can follow Jennifer's (Jones) footsteps and win another Canadian championship for Manitoba."

Fowler pointed out that the team finished third at the 2007 Brier and second last year.

"Our goal is to go there and win the Brier this year," Fowler declared.

It would be about time.

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca


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