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McEwen stays in hunt, Stoughton not so much

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After sharing a slow start at the Roar of the Rings, the path of Winnipeg skips Jeff Stoughton and Mike McEwen towards Olympic dreams split apart Tuesday.

Both local rinks — and thus, fan favourites — won their morning games to improve to 1-2, as Stoughton squeezed past Toronto’s John Epping 4-3 and McEwen bested John Morris’s squad 7-5. Those wins lit a ray of hope for local fans, but by the time a high-scoring evening draw was done, McEwen’s rink — which includes lead Denni Neufeld, second Matt Wozniak and third B.J. Neufeld — had lit the brighter one.

At night, the McEwen foursome beat Epping 10-7. Stoughton, meanwhile, fell to Morris 11-5 in nine ends.

That was the day McEwen believed he could have when he woke up before dawn Tuesday morning. It was also the day the foursome had to have if they were to stay in this thing.

"We were playing two teams today that we believed, that if we brought a good game, that we were going to win," said McEwen after the final handshake of the night.

"I think we did a good job shaking off all the crap that happened yesterday, and the day before."

The wins put McEwen in fourth place on the men’s leaderboard, with the top three teams by Friday’s end making the playoff cut.

In Wednesday's play, McEwen will face veteran Glenn Howard, who at 1-3 is fighting for his life in these Olympic trials.

For McEwen, the road ahead is simple.

"We gotta win tomorrow," McEwen said. "And after tomorrow’s game, I’ll probably say the same thing... we’re alive and kicking, so that’s a goal accomplished."

But while the McEwen rink is still alive, Stoughton’s is clinging to life support. A favourite coming into these trials, Stoughton’s record of 1-3 to start the week means the playoffs are almost out of reach — though not entirely. There’s no magic formula to regrouping, he said, his crew just has to stay focused in case things shake out their way.

"You just can never give up," Stoughton said. "We need a lot of help, and that’s too bad. We had our fate in our own hands... we’re going to see if we can run this out with three more wins, and see what happens at the end of the week."

In the morning, an example of how some of the little shots went wrong for Stoughton: an unlikely mistake in the ninth end against Epping was almost Stoughton’s undoing, as the skip’s last rock of the frame slid past the button and out of the house. With that miss, instead of scoring three, Stoughton handed Epping a one-point steal to tie the game 3-3. The crowd gasped, and although Epping showed little outward sign, the Toronto skip, too, was surprised.

"I did not expect him to miss that," said Epping. "It definitely gave us a chance."

After four tilts now at the Roar of the Rings, reigning Brier champion Brad Jacobs remains undefeated. His teammates have curled what he called their best games of the year.

Undefeated, too, is reigning Olympic champion Kevin Martin, who twice made an unlikely comeback on Tuesday to improve to 4-0 — first against Alberta’s Kevin Koe and in the evening against Howard.

For Koe, that morning game was a heartbreaker, the moment where he saw his Olympic hopes begin to die. Koe was up 5-4 in the 10th end against Martin, and watched as the reigning Olympic champion sent a rock sneaking tight around a guard to score a double and seal Martin’s third win.

In the evening, with just a sliver of a chance of making the playoffs, Koe and Jacobs traded scores, but a devastating four-ender by Jacobs helped seal Koe’s fourth loss.

"We just couldn’t come up with the big shots when we needed ’em and other teams did against us," Koe said. "That’s what this event comes down to."

With no realistic shot now at the playoffs, Koe and his crew must now ride the rest of the week out. Wednesday, they’ll play Stoughton’s rink in the afternoon draw.

"We’ll come out and try and win a few games for sure, try not to embarrass ourselves," the skip said. "But it’s tough when you’re out of it and you’re going to be playing against teams that still have a lot to play for."

The Roar of the Rings continues Wednesday with three draws, including women’s games at 8:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. and a men’s draw at 1:30 p.m.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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