Curling's changing of the guard

Jeff Stoughton may have eight purple hearts on his curling resume but that doesn't mean anything to...

Jeff Stoughton may have eight purple hearts on his curling resume but that doesn't mean anything to Mike McEwen (at the recent Canadian Open in Oshawa, Ont.) and his team, who have been on a roll this season. (ANIL MUNGAL/Capital One)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:29 AM ET

WINNIPEG - It’s time to address the biggest question on the provincial curling scene.

Well, aside from, “Will Cathy-O get revenge on J-Jones?,” which remains the game’s top soap opera.

But the other question uppermost in the minds of those following the pebbled pursuit is more of a debate.

Stoughton or McEwen?

I’m talking about who should be the top seed for next week’s provincial men’s championship, set for Beausejour.

Well, the participants have spoken.

Thanks to a website glitch that saw the draw posted inadvertently in advance, the cat is out of the bag: Mike McEwen will be officially unveiled on Thursday as the top seed.

This marks the first time since the big guns boycotted the Brier and provincial playdowns nearly a decade ago that someone other than Jeff Stoughton or Kerry Burtnyk is the No. 1 seed.

“When you think about the progression of our team, it’s pretty cool, where we came from and where we are now,” McEwen told the Winnipeg Sun, Wednesday. “It’s definitely something to be proud of.”

In a departure from tradition, the field obviously put more weight to McEwen’s red-hot season — he’s won two Grand Slam events and leads the World Curling Tour money list — than to Stoughton’s eight provincial titles.

And in so doing, it has painted a giant bull’s-eye on the 30-year-old from Brandon.

“The pressure and expectations were going to be there regardless of whether we were the top seed or not,” McEwen said. “There’s no fooling anybody — I’m sure we’ve got a target on our back.”

McEwen’s foursome may have swung the scales in its favour last weekend, when it beat Stoughton in the semifinal of the Canadian Open in Oshawa, its third straight victory over the defending Manitoba champ in a money match this season.

“They’ve beat us in two finals and a semi last week,” Stoughton said. “It’s been easy pickings for them. I can see some people arguing we’re the defending champs ... and history and that. But if you base it on the performance of this year, Mike is more than deserving of the No. 1 seed.”

The thing is, Stoughton’s team, with new-old face Jon Mead and young gun Reid Carruthers signed up, might be better than it was a year ago, when it beat McEwen in the provincial final.

But McEwen says the Stoughton aura doesn’t affect his team anymore. Those eight purple hearts might give the old horse an edge on the rest of the field, but not on the new pole sitter.

“It did in the past,” he said. “We’ve been together four years now and just got our own experience. We’ve had to learn a lot of hard lessons ourselves. We started to turn the corner last year and kind of completed that this year.”

So it’s time to ditch the “up-and-comer” label.

After years of talking about the new guard taking over, it’s finally happening.

“I wouldn’t say we’ve taken over,” McEwen said. “But we’ve certainly arrived. Hopefully people are getting sick of us in 10 or 15 years.”

Actually, this whole “arrival” story isn’t quite complete, and McEwen knows it.

Unseating the old guard as the top seed is one thing.

Becoming Manitoba champion, another entirely.

“Until you have that provincial title,” McEwen said, “there’s one piece of the puzzle that’s missing.”

In his way stands the old, stubborn champ, finally pulled to within reach, where he can get a good shot at him.

And the rivalry between the two?

“It’s friendly — we both want to beat each other’s brains out,” McEwen said, laughing.

It was the laugh of a top seed, not seeming to mind the pressure one bit.

Twitter@friesensunmedia


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