LAS VEGAS — Jeff Stoughton is arguably curling better this month than he ever has in his long and illustrious hall of fame career.
And that’s too bad. Really too bad.
Because the stark reality is Winnipeg’s Stoughton would be be on his way to Sochi to represent Canada at at next month’s Winter Olympics if he curled nearly as well at December’s Roar of the Rings at the MTS Centre as he has the past couple of weeks.
A week after dominating in Banff, Alta., at a big-money skins event, Stoughton has been nothing short of sensational again at the Continental Cup, authoring highlight shot after highlight shot, including an impossible in-off double takeout Friday night in his game against Scotland’s David Murdoch that turned what was looking like a certain steal of two for Murdoch into a single for Stoughton.
It was easily the best shot of this Ryder Cup-style competition thus far and it brought the big crowd at Orleans Arena to its feet for a standing ovation.
So exactly how well has Stoughton been curling this month? Well, consider this tweet sent by his longtime third Jon Mead last weekend as Stoughton and a team of all-stars was stomping the competition in Banff and taking down $70,500 of a possible $100,000 in winnings at the TSN Skins Game.
"Stoughtie is bringin’ it today. Makin’ us remember the days of the middle part and feathered hair. #hesnotdoneyet," Mead tweeted.
And the cruel irony that it’s all happening this month, not last? Well, that also wasn’t lost on Mead. "What a first shot by Stoughtie," Mead tweeted during the same final game. "Guess he has been saving them up. #whynow."
Why now, indeed?
"That’s just the way curling has always been — it’s so up and down. And for everybody, not just us," Stoughton said Saturday. "It’s a cruel little sport sometimes. And frustrating. And in Canada, we’ve got probably 6-10 teams that are so strong and every one of them can win.
"We look back now at the Trials and I’m still not sure what happened exactly. We had great practices, we were playing at home in Winnipeg, we all felt pretty good going in. Our mindset was really good. But we just never did get the buzz going for ourselves to get the crowd going.
"And then we played really, really good in our first two games and we got nothing out of it. We didn’t even have a sniff. And we were like, ‘Wow, what’s it going to take to win this thing?’ And from there, we started to struggle a bit. But that’s just curling. Everyone says it’s the inch, but really it’s the millimetre.
"It’s disappointing, sure. But really, I’d rather lose the way we did, where we didn’t even make the playoffs, then lose the final. Because I’ve lost a Trials final before (in 2005, to Brad Gushue) and that was gut-wrenching."
Stoughton is 50 and said prior to the Trials he will not pursue another four-year Olympic cycle, meaning the loss at the MTS Centre was his last chance to fill the only hole remaining on a curling resume that includes 10 Manitoba titles, three Briers and two world titles.
So how do you go from the sobering realization your Olympic dream is over forever to being at the very top of your game in six short weeks?
"We talked about it a couple of weeks after the Trials and said as a team, ‘You know what? We put so much into this — let’s have a good second half of the year and still get something out of it,’ " Stoughton explained.
"Yeah, obviously I’d have loved to have played better at the Trials. But I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. So we took about a month off after the Trials and finally stepped back on to the ice just a couple days before we headed out to Banff.
"And it felt pretty good. And went pretty good. So hopefully it just continues the rest of the season. I’m just enjoying the game and having fun again. The disappointment of the Trials is now over."