Stoughton crew off a good start

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:50 PM ET

LONDON — Every time he curls, Manitoba second Reid Carruthers pulls on a neoform knee wrap.

It’s an old relic from the injury that ended his 2010 season in the middle of provincials.

“I probably don’t need it anymore,” the 26-year-old said with a grin, “but I put it on in October and I’ve been pain-free since so why not keep wearing it?

“At this point, it’s become kind of like a good luck charm for me.”

His teammate, third Jon Mead, knows the feeling.

The old Jeff Stoughton hand is embracing this week’s Tim Hortons Brier as if it’s a full-body neoform wrap. He’s eating up every Timbit-sized moment here in London and hoping his good luck holds out.

“I know my 15 minutes in the (curling) sun are close to being done,” the 43-year-old Mead said, “so I want to make sure I enjoy this. I feel rejuvenated. I’m having a lot of fun. This year’s been a blast for me and it feels great to be back on the big stage again.”

The comfort level is through the roof. Skip Jeff Stoughton’s crew buried Jim Cotter’s B.C. boys 10-4 in the opening draw Saturday afternoon at the John Labatt Centre before taking on upstart New Brunswick in the evening.

“The guys played great,” Stoughton said. “We knew we had to get off to a good start; they’re (Cotter) one of the top teams here and to get rid of them early is great because they can only get better.”

But they didn’t have an answer for the new-and-improved Mead. His sweet raise-double in the second end set up an early steal, staked Manitoba to a 3-0 lead and the Buffalo boys were off and roaming.

“You can’t leave a shot like that for a good player,” Mead joked. “With three-quarters to full (stone) showing and great ice, you have to make it. The only statement we’ve made is we’re ready to go. That’s all it is. We’re looking forward to this week.”

If Manitoba is bearing the 12-year weight of a title drought, Mead is wearing it well at his fourth Brier.

He was part of Stoughton’s 1999 national title, but needed a breather after taking the trip in 2006.

Think representing curling-mad Manitoba is a nerve-tester?

Mead’s been battle-hardened since packing up his broom and pursuing a couple of years service with Wayne Middaugh. They took their shot at the 2010 Olympic berth, but it didn’t happen.

“When you play with Wayne, he puts you in a pressure-cooker all the time,” Mead said. “I learned so much being around him and I owe him a lot. I’m a way better player than I was four years ago thanks to Wayne.”

And now, Stoughton gets to enjoy the fruit of Mead’s pilgrimage. Everything old feels new again.

“I needed a break,” Mead said, “but you pick up where you left off and continue on. We have a great group of guys here and we’re enjoying this.”

It feels like new again for Mead.

But for Brier first-timer Carruthers, it’s a dream come true after his hellish 2010 season.

“No one wants to get hurt and have to pull out mid-provincials,” he said. “I came in this year ready to go and when Jeff asked me to play, I knew it was a great opportunity to do something special.

“We’re four guys who have clicked so well together.”

So smooth, it was like riding a bike. Carruthers should know since he spent three months pedaling to get his knee back up to snuff.

“A lot of time on the bike,” he said, “but also a lot of lunges and exercises. Nothing on machines. Just using my body weight.

“The knee’s in way better shape than it was before I got hurt.”

Exactly how Mead feels about this revitalized Stoughton team, dangerous as ever.

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