February 12, 2012
New Manitoba curling king crowned
By JIM BENDER, QMI Agency
It certainly was a surprising weekend.
First, Charleswood's defending champion Jeff Stoughton was eliminated on Saturday. Then, Fort Rouge's Mike McEwen — the top-ranked team in the world — was upset by Brandon's Rob Fowler in the Safeway Championship final Sunday.
When Fowler left Stoughton's team after three trips to the Brier as his second to return to skipping last year, there were a lot of doubters out there. Sure, his new squad won some big coin, but could someone who had served as second for both Stoughton and the legendary Kerry Burtnyk before him rise up out of those shadows to win a Manitoba title that belonged to Stoughton with McEwen ready to take over?
Those doubts were erased when Fowler's foursome was full value for beating McEwen 10-6 in the final at Credit Union Place — capping it off with a steal of two the 10th end.
It was suggested that the unexpected victory was Fowler's coming-out party.
"Obviously, that's huge so I'd be comfortable with you calling it that," said Fowler, who won his first Manitoba title with Stoughton right here in Dauphin back in 2007. "The first time in '07 was pretty awesome but to do it as a skip was pretty special."
He will also skip at the Brier for the first time.
That's going to be awesome," he said. "The Brier is, by far, the best event. The Grand Slams are great but there's no comparison, so we're very much looking forward to going to Saskatoon."
Supported by third Allan Lyburn, second Richard Daneault and Derek Samagalski, Fowler will represent Manitoba at the Tim Hortons Brier in Saskatoon, Mar. 3-11.
Daneault was at the 2008 Brier at second for Assiniboine Memorial's Kerry Burtnyk. It is the first for the other two.
It was also the third straight loss in the Manitoba final for McEwen — the first time a team has lost three straight since Burtnyk (1997-99).
"Life sucks sometimes," said a despondent McEwen. "It's not fair. There's nobody that works harder than us and it didn't work out. All the credit to them, they played better than we did. Don't ask me why it happens, but it happens.
"I don't want to do this any more. It's tough, but it just happens. I mean, we're great in other finals. We've never lost a Slam final. I don't know why we can't play our best game on a Safeway Sunday."
McEwen dominated early but some great shooting by Fowler allowed him to escape trouble.
"I think it happened early," McEwen said. "We kind of had them on the ropes for the first two or three ends, then kind of let them off. After that point, they had us hanging on for dear life the last half of the game. So, we had them early, let it slip away and they never looked back from that."
But it was rather surprising how badly Fowler's foursome outplayed the top-ranked team in the world.
Lyburn was asked if Fowler did indeed prove something to the rest of the curling world.
"Maybe to you guys," he said. "I've seen him shoot lights out and I've got full confidence in him. That's the thing that puts him up there with Mike and Jeff."
That's pretty elite company, but Fowler declined to get into that argument.
"I'm not looking to put myself in any class," said Fowler, whose father, Brian, won the Manitoba title back in 1987. "It's up to you guys and the fans to kind of put us where we belong compared to anyone else."
Yet, the doubters will re-emerge when Fowler wears the Buffalo at the Brier.