EDMONTON -- Manitoba’s Jeff Stoughton has gone into a slump at the worst possible time here at the Canadian men’s curling championship.
Stoughton lost his second straight game here Friday morning, a shocking 7-5 loss to N.W.T.’s Jamie Koe that puts Stoughton’s back to the wall heading into his final round-robin game here tonight against B.C.
The loss -- against a N.W.T. team that was just 3-6 coming into today -- dropped Manitoba’s record to 7-3 and means Stoughton will have to beat B.C. or face the possibility of having to play a tiebreaker game just to get into the playoffs, which begin here on Saturday.
It’s all a shocking turnaround for a Manitoba team that was 7-1 here just 24 hours ago and who, even after a loss to Northern Ontario Thursday night, came into today needing only wins over N.W.T. and B.C. to wrap up a coveted spot in the page playoff 1-vs.-2 game, where the winners advance straight to Sunday’s Brier final and the losers get a second chance in the semifinal against the winner of the 3-vs.-4 game.
Ontario, who improved to 10-0 with a 6-1 win over PEI Friday morning, have already locked up first place and a berth in the 1-vs.-2 game. And Stoughton still has a path here today to finishing second and face Howard in the playoffs, but it will require Manitoba to beat BC tonight and then have Northern Ontario lose one of their two final games today.
There is also one other scenario where should Northern Ontario win both their games today and Manitoba win their remaining game, Manitoba could still advance to the 1-vs.-2 game if they find themselves in a three-way tie for second place at 8-3 with Northern Ontario and Newfoundland at the end of tonight. In that scenario, the tiebreaker between those three teams would be the cumulative total of pre-game draws to the button and Manitoba is second only to Saskatchewan right now in that category.
Stoughton’s opponent tonight is soft -- B.C.’s Andrew Bilesky is just 1-9 and is skipping here this week a team that will go down as perhaps the worst men’s team to ever represent BC at a Brier.
But Northern Ontario also has a soft schedule today. Brad Jacobs plays New Brunswick’s James Grattan this afternoon -- Grattan is 5-5 but has already been effectively eliminated from playoff contention -- and then closes tonight with a game against a 1-8 Nova Scotia team.
In the only other game of consequence Friday morning, Alberta’s Kevin Martin won his fifth game in a row 6-5 over Newfoundland’s Brad Gushue to keep the hometown team’s playoff hopes alive.
The win improved Martin’s record to 6-4 after a 1-4 start and means that for Alberta to force a playoff tiebreaker game, they will need to beat Ontario on the final round-robin draw tonight and get at least two of the teams who presently have just three losses -- Manitoba (7-3), Newfoundland (7-3), Quebec (6-3) and Northern Ontario (6-3) -- to lose at least one game today.
If Manitoba were to finish the round-robin tonight tied with just one team for second at 8-3, they would be awarded second place in a standings tie with Newfoundland or Quebec, because they beat both those teams in the round-robin. But they would lose a standings tie with Northern Ontario, for the same reason.