LONDON — Jeff Stoughton has been to nine Briers.
But at this one, his familiar face might end up symbolizing some curling change.
If the Manitoba skip finishes top of the round-robin mountain by in London, it’ll be the first time in a half-dozen years someone not named Glenn Howard (three times) and Kevin Martin (twice) ruled the roost.
It won’t be easy to get there — not after dropping his first game of the week at the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier 7-4 to Ontario’s Howard Tuesday night at the John Labatt Centre.
“Better now than Sunday,” Stoughton said. “At least that’s one someone in the stands said. We won’t dwell on it, although I’m sure we’ll talk about it for a while here and we’re going to have to come back and play a big game against Saskatchewan (Wednesday afternoon).”
Manitoba (6-1) is in a three-way tie for top spot with Howard, who has won six in a row, and Martin. All the usual suspects are out in front.
Howard finished it of with a key bump for two in the ninth end. But the critical damage was done in the fourth when Stoughton surrendered a steal of two to go down 4-0.
“You’re a quarter-, half-inch off against these guys and that’s too much,” Stoughton said. “Giving up a steal for two isn’t that bad, but when it’s a steal for two to go down four, that’s tough to come back from against good teams.
“We’re glad we put together a couple of good ends there (in six, seven and eight).”
There will be no 11-0 run at the Brier this year; no perfect province for the first time in four years.
Howard went spotless last year in Halifax before losing in the final to Alberta’s Kevin Koe.
As part of his-just finished Brier win streak, Martin went 11-0 in both 2008 and ’09. He won the titles, too.
Vic Peters was the last Manitoban to run the table at Calgary in 1997. He lost to Martin, of course, in the final.
“Going undefeated is never the goal,” Manitoba third Jon Mead said. “The way these things tend to go, there are three or four teams you know are going to be up there and if you can go 2-2 against the teams that are supposed to be ranked higher than you and beat the rest of the field, you’re going to end up something like 9-2 and you’ll take that all the time.
“The goal has always been to make it to the weekend. When you lock that up, then you can start thinking about going for that 1-2 spot (and a berth in at least the semifinal game).”
Howard, the first foe Manitoba faced with a winning record, ensured Stoughton’s days of scoring at least eight a game and shaking hands a couple of ends early was over.
“Giving up four early is better than giving up four late,” Mead said, “but the way they were playing (Ontario second Brent Laing curled a perfect 100 %), it was a chore for sure.
“It’s never an easy thing.”
Neither is the rest of Stoughton’s schedule. A date with Martin on Wednesday night, which could very well decide a first or second playoff seed, looms large.
Of their six previous common Briers, Stoughton has only finished ahead of Martin once in the round robin (2000).
“We have a tough game against Saskatchewan coming up,” Mead said, “and we have to win that first. We’ll start thinking about Alberta when it’s time.”