'Winning breeds winning'

JIM BENDER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:22 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Losing last year’s Safeway Championship final in an extra end to Jeff Stoughton may have been heartbreaking for the Mike McEwen crew, but it did not kill them.

In fact, it made them even more determined to improve.

Before McEwen came along, Stoughton was the hardest-working man in Manitoba curling. But McEwen has more than matched that work ethic.

“After beating them last year, the next night, two or three of them were throwing rocks,” Steve Gould, Stoughton’s long-time lead said last week. “They’re putting more work into it than anybody. Winning breeds winning, so they have the confidence that they can win. And what really helped them out is they beat (Olympic gold medallist Kevin) Martin once, and then, all of a sudden, they beat (former world champion Glenn) Howard and then, they beat Stoughton.

“So, they start believing in themselves. They’re just good, quality players. That’s what it boils down to.”

You had the impression last year that they would not allow themselves to believe they could beat Stoughton in that final, despite having beaten him in the Page playoff one-two match. Since then, they have beaten Stoughton three times with big coin on the line, and currently lead the World Curling Tour money list. They deserve the No. 1 status for this year’s Safeway Championship that starts in Beausejour on Wednesday.

Yet, there will remain some nagging doubt about his resume until McEwen actually does finally win a Manitoba men’s title — just like there once was about Vic Peters before he won his first of three.

“There’s no question that this year has belonged to Mike McEwen,” said Cathy Gauthier, who will be the colour analyst once again for Shaw Cable in Beausejour. “But Jeff has proven beyond a doubt that he has owned the Buffalo, and Mike hasn’t. Playing in the Slams is just not the same as (the provincials).

“Jeff hasn’t had as great a year but, until someone yanks that title from him, it’s his. But, once Mike wins one, he’ll win a bunch.”

It also bears noting that this is not the same team Stoughton won with last season. It was still moulding its chemistry when it lost to McEwen earlier this year as Jon Mead has returned to replace third Kevin Park and Reid Carruthers has replaced Rob Fowler at second. Fowler will skip the No. 3 seed in Beausejour.

“Everyone has different reasons why they motivate themselves,” Gould said. “Reid’s probably motivating himself because he wants to win his first Purple Heart. I’d like to win another one so that I’m second behind Jeff all time (he now has five to Stoughton’s record eight). Jon hasn’t played in the event since 2006, and his daughter really wants to see her dad play in the Brier.”

This does shape up to be a two-horse race, but that does not mean there could not be a major surprise. Remember 2004 and ‘05 when Stoughton was supposed to run away with the title? The winners? Brent Scales and Randy Dutiaume.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rob Fowler sneak up on some people,” Gauthier said. “He certainly won’t be intimidated by Jeff and he is more than capable of winning it all.”

But I am leaning towards McEwen just because of his mature outlook.

“Regardless of what happens in Beausejour, it’s not going to be a make or break for us this season,” he said. “We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished, and at the end of the day, whether we win or lose, we’re going to go forward pretty excited for our future.”

BITERS: The Elmwood Curling Club will celebrate its 100th anniversary in a special ceremony this Saturday at 2 p.m. … Dennis Neal defeated Ken Dusablon 7-6 in an extra end to win the Manitoba Fire Fighters Championship at the Fort Rouge on the weekend.

— With files from Kirk Penton

Bender’s picks

Safeway Championship, Feb. 9-13, Beausejour

1. Mike McEwen, Assiniboine Memorial (2-1) … ready for Brier time

2. Jeff Stoughton, Charleswood (5-2) … could extend record

3. Rob Fowler, Brandon (6-1) … has the credentials

4. Vic Peters, Fort Garry (8-1) … last hurrah?

5. Garth Smith, Assiniboine Memorial (12-1) … the dark horse

6. Peter Nicholls, Pembina (15-1) … will be close

7. Sean Grassie, Deer Lodge (20-1) … dominated local circuit

8. Willy Lyburn, Deer Lodge (25-1) … don’t overlook

9. Dave Elias, West Kildonan (30-1) … the spoiler

10. Terry McNamee, Brandon (40-1) … always in the mix


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