EDMONTON — The way Brad Jacobs and his Northern Ontario team were playing here the last few days, Jeff Stoughton probably wasn’t going to beat him in the Brier final anyway.
But then the game started and Stoughton promptly — and personally — removed all doubt.
In a world of uncertainty where death, taxes and Joe Mack’s refusal to sign free agents are the only constants, one of the few other things we’ve always been able to count on as Winnipeggers is that our man Stoughton would always rise to the biggest moments of his sport.
In 15 Canadian and Manitoba men’s curling finals heading into Sunday night, Stoughton had been beaten just twice — once in 2009 at the Brier when an unbeaten Kevin Martin team simply steamrolled him, and then another time in the Manitoba final in 2004 when Brent Scales won on a fluke.
Aside from that — money.
Until last night. If you’re interested, you probably already watched the game on TV Sunday night, so there’s no need to belabour the ugly details behind Northern Ontario’s historic 11-4 victory over Stoughton, other than to point out he missed his first four shots — two in the first end and two in the second end — to gift the best-hitting team in Canada a 3-0 lead on steals and a stranglehold on the game.
Manitoba briefly showed signs of life with a deuce in the third end, but Jacobs pulled the plug on the patient for good in the fourth end. After Stoughton sailed a draw attempt through the house on his first rock, then came up a little heavy on a freeze attempt with his second, Jacobs seized the opportunity to win the Brier immediately and played a difficult pick of a lone Manitoba stone in the house to put a 3 and a 6-2 lead up on the board.
"When you get a little behind and you have to make some really good shots and it just doesn’t happen, it’s disappointing," said Stoughton, who shot just 63 per cent through the critical first four ends. "I’m disappointed just because the crowd came here to see a great game and we certainly didn’t give them a great game."
Unless, of course, you were a fan of Northern Ontario.
How unlikely was Northern Ontario’s win here last night? Consider:
❚ Last night’s Canadian men’s curling title was the first for Northern Ontario since 1985.
❚ Northern Ontario became just the second team ever to win a Brier championship after qualifying through the 3 vs. 4 game, winning their last six games in a row to do it — including over the defending world champions from Ontario in the semifinal earlier Sunday.
❚ At age 27, Sault Ste. Marie’s Jacobs became the youngest skip to win the Brier since Martin won his first Brier in 1991 at age 24. Jacobs wasn’t even born the last time Northern Ontario won.
"We played amazing through these whole playoffs. We were the underdogs the whole way, we never had hammer and to come out and do what we did is just phenomenal," said Jacobs, who was supported by third Ryan Fry, second E.J. Harnden and lead Ryan Harnden.
So what’s the bright side in all this for Manitoba curling fans? Well, for starters, Manitoba wasn’t entirely shut out last night — Fry is a Winnipeg native with the tuckiest of all Manitoba tuck deliveries, and last night’s win adds a Brier Tankard to the family mantel to go with the one his old man, Barry, won for Manitoba back in 1979.
"It’s a dream come true," said Fry, who jumped into the stands after the game to hug his parents. "It’s been my dream since I was a little kid, watching him, and to actually fulfil it now is unreal."
There’s also some solace to be drawn from the fact Manitoba teams competed in all four major Canadian curling finals this year — junior men’s and men’s, junior women’s and women’s — although there’s also no escaping the fact only Matt Dunstone, who picked up bronze over the weekend at the world juniors, actually hoisted a Canadian trophy in triumph.
Aside from that? Well, it’s really more eastern Manitoba than Northern Ontario anyway, right
And that’s the thing about the Brier, isn’t it — there really is no second place. There’s a little cash for making the final — both teams get $40,000 — but that’s nothing compared to the $144,000 in tax-free Sport Canada funding over the next two years, another $40,000 for training and competition expenses and a $10,000 cresting fee the Jacobs team now picks up.
In the end, Stoughton and company — third Jon Mead, second Reid Carruthers and lead Mark Nichols — probably got what they earned last night.
They were good over the past week, but never great. They lost two of their last three round-robin games and almost lost a huge game Friday night to a B.C. team that had only one win all week. And they also got lucky in the 1 vs. 2 game on Saturday when Ontario’s Glenn Howard decided in the 10th end he absolutely, positively couldn’t live another moment without playing the only shot that could beat himself.
Good? Sure, Stoughton teams are always good. But great? Not this year — and especially not last night.