Jeff Stoughton will face his most familiar opponent in this afternoon's men's final at the Canada Cup of Curling in Moose Jaw, Sask.
No, not Manitoba rival Mike McEwen -- Ontario's Glenn Howard.
While Stoughton would undoubtedly have preferred to play against McEwen -- who he has dominated in big games -- it was Howard who won the right to face Stoughton in the final with a 9-6 victory over McEwen in Saturday night's semifinal, setting up a matchup today of the last two world men's champions.
And that's just more of the same old story for Stoughton, who figures with today's game (2:30 p.m., TSN) he will have played Howard about 15 times since the men faced each other in the 2011 Brier final, a game Stoughton won en route to a world championship that year.
"I think we played 11 or 12 times last year," said Stoughton. "We played twice in every single Grand Slam and a couple other bonspiels. It was just bizarre. We've never played a team that much, ever. And last year, we seemed to play them forever."
Stoughton says Howard won the majority of the matchups between the two teams last year. But then Howard beat everyone more often than not in a 2011-12 season that saw his team win a world championship of its own.
This year, the teams have faced each other twice and are 1-1, with Stoughton winning the last matchup on the opening draw of the round-robin in Moose Jaw last Wednesday.
But all those games -- with the exception, of course, of that Brier final -- will pale in comparison with today's final, where the stakes are $14,000 to the winner, the chance to earn a berth into the 2014 Continental Cup in Las Vegas and, most importantly, a berth in the 2013 Canadian Curling Trials, where Canada's men's and women's 2014 Olympic representatives will be determined.
While Howard already has his Trials berth, Stoughton still needs one and Howard was asked Saturday night if that extra pressure on the Manitobans gives his team the advantage today.
"Jeff and those guys are wily veterans. I don't think it's going to matter one iota. They've got an advantage already with hammer," said Howard.
Stoughton gets the hammer advantage because he finished the round-robin first overall at 5-1, while Howard finished second at 4-2.
If Howard wins today, the Trials berth that is available to the Canada Cup men's winner would be transferred instead to a pool of three other Trials berths that will be awarded at the conclusion of this curling season based on teams' standings on the Canadian Team Ranking System points race.
McEwen's day on Saturday turned on the play of his third, BJ Neufeld. After an abysmal 63 per cent outing in a loss to Stoughton Friday night, Neufeld shot a phenomenal 96 per cent in a 9-7 tiebreaker win over Kevin Koe Saturday morning. But just when it seemed like Neufeld had recaptured his form, he was drummed 93-67 by his Howard counterpart Wayne Middaugh in the semifinal.
"We started so well this morning and it was like we forgot how to curl (last night). I don't know what happened," McEwen told reporters in Moose Jaw after the game. "We looked like night and day."
While the loss means McEwen will not earn his Trials spot today, McEwen took consolation in the fact a third-place finish this weekend will bolster his team's quest to earn a Trials berth at the end of this winter by being among the teams with the most points.
"A field of this calibre and to finish in the top three is an accomplishment. A little money helps. And the points go a long way," said McEwen.