|Manitoba skip Jeff Stoughton celebrates after defeating Newfoundland/Labrador during the Page 1-2 game at the Brier in London, Ontario on March 11, 2011. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)
LONDON - The Montreal Canadiens of Canadian men’s curling haven’t won a Brier title since 1999, but the man who gave Manitoba the last of its leading 26 titles is one win away from making it 27.
Jeff Stoughton made a cold draw to the button against two with his final shot in the 11th end to give Manitoba a 7-6 win over Brad Gushue of Newfoundland/Labrador in the Page 1-2 playoff game Friday night at the 2011 Tim Hortons Brier.
Stoughton now advances to Sunday night’s final at the John Labatt Centre while Gushue drops to Saturday night’s semifinal, where he’ll face the winner of Saturday afternoon’s 3-4 game between Glenn Howard of Ontario and Kevin Martin of Alberta.
The game was a rematch of the 3-4 playoff game at the 2009 Brier in Calgary, won 8-7 by Stoughton with a two-spot in the 10th, and of the 2005 Olympic trials final, won by Gushue, also by an 8-7 count. It appeared Gushue was on his way in this one as he led 3-1 after three and 5-3 after seven. But Stoughton made a draw to the lid for two in the eighth and then stole one in the ninth before Gushue forced the extra end by getting one on a measurement in the 10th.
“Great effort by the guys,” Stoughton said of teammates Jon Mead, Reid Carruthers and Steve Gould. “It looked like every break in the book was going their way the first four ends and we had to keep battling back. Hat’s off to our guys. Stevie made a couple of nice ticks in 11 that left me the button and that’s all I can ask for.
“This is freaking unbelievable, the best feeling in the world to know you’re playing for the Brier title. We’ve got a day off tomorrow to throw some rocks and have some fun. But we’re really not going to be able to sleep, eat or talk.”
Asked what turned things around, Stoughton replied: “Just making shots. We got better angle and better placement than they did, especially in eight and nine. It was just a great eight, ninth, 10th and extra end.”
Stoughton said the fact he was Manitoba’s last Brier-winning skip doesn’t weigh on his mind, other than the fact “I was actually young back then, not the old fart I am now,” he said, laughing.
Gushue, naturally, wasn’t pleased by the late collapse.
“We’re up one with (the hammer) playing six and to come out and play as poorly as we did the last five ends is very frustrating,” he said. “We just started missing the broom or throwing the wrong weight for two or three ends and we were fortunate to get away with just giving up a steal of one (in six) and a deuce in eight.
“It does take a bit of the sting out of losing this game knowing we’ve got another chance to get to the final, but this was an opportunity we let get away from us.”
One of the reasons for Manitoba’s success as been third Mead. He rejoined Stoughton this season and has been the best third here this week – outcurling his opponent in 10 of 11 round-robin games and certainly besting Newfoundland/Labrador's Mark Nichols Friday night.
“You can’t outcurl your opponent if the two guys in front of you aren’t holding up their end of the bargain,” Mead said of Carruthers and Gould. “Those guys are always putting us in great situations, because if you’re consistently chasing the game, you’ll never curl a high percentage.”