He made it look easy -- again.
Winnipeg skip Jeff Stoughton won his 11th Manitoba men's curling championship on Sunday, defeating provincial rival Mike McEwen 8-3 in the final of the Safeway Championship at the MTS Iceplex.
A pair of three-enders -- one in the first end and one in the final end -- bookended the latest triumph for a man who has made the Manitoba competitive curling scene his own private playground for the past two decades.
It was Stoughton's 11th Manitoba men's title in 12 trips to the final -- and the third time he beat McEwen in the final since 2010.
'It's kind of cool to be a 50-year-old and get to go to the Brier'
With the victory, Stoughton and his team -- third Jon Mead, second Reid Carruthers and lead Mark Nichols -- will represent Manitoba at the Brier in Kamloops, March 1-9.
"It's pretty exciting to be able to go back to a place where we had some good history," said Stoughton, who won his first of three Briers in Kamloops in 1996. "Hopefully that building is packed and we're having a great time."
Stoughton said there was also an extra-special satisfaction in winning this title after having celebrated a milestone birthday in the past year. "It's kind of cool to be a 50-year-old and get to go to the Brier," said Stoughton.
"The guys keep bugging me -- I get good deals in the buffet line."
The loss was a bitter pill to swallow for McEwen, who has now appeared in four of the last five provincial men's curling finals but lost all four of them -- including three to Stoughton in 2010, 2011 and now 2014. The other loss was to Rob Fowler in 2012.
'... We're a great team, too, and I think we deserve to be on the national level. But we've got a giant to go through in Manitoba. That's the way it is'
"I don't know if they get harder. It gets more aggravating," McEwen said after the game. "They're a great team -- I'm not going to take anything away from how they played. But, we're a great team, too, and I think we deserve to be on the national level.
"But we've got a giant to go through in Manitoba. That's the way it is. It's just a massive amount of patience on our part and we're going to have to wait longer."
Stoughton was asked if he had any empathy for the agonies he has put his rival through in three finals. True to form, Stoughton was blunt in his reply. "No. You've got to play your best at the right time," said Stoughton. "And it's going to come -- it's just not there yet."
McEwen got a more empathetic hearing, however, from Mead. "You can see it in their faces -- they don't seem to get any breaks," said Mead, who was sensational on Sunday and showed once again why he is widely considered one of the sport's premier big-game players.
"They got about as little out of some well-thrown rocks today as they possibly could. They deserved a better fate."
In addition to victories over McEwen in three provincial finals, Stoughton also beat McEwen in the 2013 semifinal and in the Page playoff 1 vs. 1 game on Saturday night, a victory that vaulted Stoughton straight to Sunday's final.
With the loss to Stoughton on Saturday, McEwen had to first beat Willie Lyburn in Sunday morning's semifinal just to advance to the final. But he did that, and McEwen said after the final he fully expected to carry a strong performance by his team against Lyburn into the final game against Stoughton.
"I felt good about today. I fully expected to win," reflected McEwen.
McEwen's optimism appeared well-placed -- for the grand total of the first half of the first end. But with McEwen rocks nicely placed and an opening-end McEwen steal looking like it was in play, Mead jumped all over a miscue by McEwen third B.J. Neufeld, triggering a chain of events that flipped the end and ultimately resulted in a three-ender for Stoughton.
McEwen never recovered and trailed by as much as 5-1 after the fourth end. But his team continued to battle and had narrowed Stoughton's lead to 5-3 after the seventh end, only to give up another three-ender in the eighth end that prompted handshakes.
It was all sweet vindication for a Stoughton team who vowed after their Olympic dreams were dashed at the Roar of the Rings earlier this winter they would salvage something out of all the work and effort they put into this season.
"This wasn't on our agenda. We were hoping to be where (Sochi-bound) Jennifer Jones is right now," said Carruthers. "But we took a break after the Trials and didn't throw for a while. And then we got back together and refocused and got fired up again to get back to the Brier."
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