December 7, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
EDMONTON — Manitoba shot 91 per cent as a team at the Canadian men’s curling championship Thursday night — and lost.
Those two facts don’t usually go together at a Canadian curling event but they did Thursday as Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton and his team curled one of their best games all week and still had their five-game winning streak snapped by a Northern Ontario team that was even better.
"They came out right from lead to skip and were phenomenal," Stoughton said of a Northern Ontario squad that shot 92 per cent in a 9-4 win. "We’re not bowing our heads after that, that’s for sure. They played a phenomenal game."
Northern Ontario had limped into Thursday night’s game against Manitoba, having lost three of its previous four games, while Stoughton was riding a five-game winning streak that went all the way back to his only previous loss this week — to Ontario on Sunday evening.
Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs was asked how he accounted for such a dramatic turnaround in his team’s level of play.
"We all drank a huge Red Bull before the game," Jacobs replied.
When reporters laughed at what they thought was a joke by Jacobs, he made it clear he wasn’t kidding about the energy drinks.
"Honestly, honestly," he said. "It perked us right up. I’m not even lying."
Thursday night’s loss to Northern Ontario came after a 6-5 Manitoba win over New Brunswick earlier Thursday and actually meant very little to Manitoba’s playoff positioning heading into Friday’s final round-robin draws.
With a 7-2 record, Manitoba still controls its own playoff destiny, needing only a pair of wins against soft opponents — a 3-6 N.W.T. team this morning and a 1-8 B.C. team tonight — to lock up a spot in Saturday’s Page playoff 1 vs. 2 game, where the winner advances straight to Sunday’s final while the loser gets a second chance in the semifinal.
"It’s good that we don’t have to look around or watch anybody else," Stoughton said. "We just have to come and beat the Territories and then beat B.C. We’ll take it."
Still, Stoughton conceded earlier Thursday that his team still isn’t as sharp as it could be.
"There’s one or two shots here and there that you’d like back," he said.
And the ice is definitely getting straighter with any type of weight. So we’re just getting used to very minimal ice on hits. It takes a little while to get used to so little broom when you’re throwing on arena ice."
Stoughton came into Friday's play in a tie for second place with Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue. They’re followed in the standings by Northern Ontario and Quebec, which are tied for the fourth and final playoff spot at 6-3.
Ontario’s Glenn Howard, meanwhile, is now home and cooled at 9-0, with first place locked up no matter what he does in his final two round-robin games.
"The bottom line is I think we’re No. 1 no matter what," said Howard.
"That’s the first goal and we made it... That’s awesome. Are you kidding me — with two games to go? That’s fantastic."
And then there’s Alberta’s Kevin Martin, who got wins over P.E.I. and Saskatchewan on Thursday to improve to 5-4 after a dreadful 1-4 start. The wins kept Martin’s slim playoff hopes alive, but he will need to win both his games today against very tough opponents in Newfoundland and Ontario and then get some help from other teams in the field if he’s going to force a tie-breaker game for the fourth and final playoff spot.
Martin seemed resigned to his predicament. "Everything’s going fine. We just have to keep winning and we’ll see what happens," said Martin.