Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A tough day, and he didn't even play

Stoughton drops to third place, taking long way to Brier final

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KAMLOOPS, B.C. -- It can be done -- Northern Ontario's Brad Jacobs did it just last year and so did Alberta's Kevin Koe in 2010.

But trying to win the Brier through the sudden death Page playoff 3 vs 4 game is definitely the long way around.

Alas, that is the circuitous route Manitoba's Jeff Stoughton is going to have to take here this weekend if he's going to, at age 50, join just three other men who have skipped four Brier champions.

"It's too bad," Stoughton said Friday. "But we are where we are and we're still just three wins away from winning the Brier."

The Charleswood skip had a disappointing day at the Tim Hortons Brier on Friday, despite the fact he never even set foot on the ice. A 7-5 loss by Alberta's Koe to Quebec's Jean-Michel Ménard on the final round-robin draw meant Manitoba finished the round robin in third place and will have to play Quebec in Saturday afternoon's 3 vs. 4 game.

Alberta lost again to British Columbia's John Morris in Friday night's 1 vs. 2 game. That game -- in which B.C. advanced straight to Sunday's final, while Alberta gets a second chance in tonight's semifinal against the winner of Manitoba-Quebec -- was a 9-5 clinic by powerhouse B.C.

While Manitoba finished the round-robin with the same 9-2 record as B.C. and Alberta, Stoughton was relegated to third place by tiebreakers.

The first tiebreaker -- the three teams' round-robin records against each other -- solved nothing because all three teams were 1-1 against each other during the week.

That brought the second tiebreaker into play -- the cumulative distance of pre-game draws to the button that teams have been doing all week to determine hammer in the first end. Manitoba trailed both B.C. and Alberta in that category and so was seeded third heading into the playoffs.

Indeed, Stoughton and Co. were weirdly hopeless in their draws to the button, winning the hammer just three times in 11 games -- and never when it was either Stoughton or third Jon Mead doing the pre-game draws.

So, when was the last time Stoughton and Mead went 0-fer in draws to the button at the Brier?

"Are you kidding?," said Mead, laughing. "Never."

So now what? Well, while Quebec finished two games behind Manitoba in the round-robin standings at 7-4, they did win the head-to-head matchup 9-7 when the two teams met on Draw 8 way back on Tuesday morning.

That was a strange game, however, in which Manitoba spotted Quebec a first end four-ender, battled back to tie the game and then had it all slip away in the extra end when Stoughton missed his last shot and gave up a game-winning steal.

But Mead pointed out that however Manitoba starts the game today, it will almost certainly be an improvement over their last start against Quebec. "We've got hammer (today) so even if they force us to 1 in the first end," Mead laughed, "we'd still be five points better than the last time we played Quebec."

Stoughton is attempting to win his fourth Brier here this weekend in the same arena where he won his first one back in 1996. Stoughton has played in two of the last three Brier finals, winning in 2011 en route to his second world championship and losing last year to Jacobs, who went on to win gold in Sochi last month.

But Ménard is also no stranger to big games, having won the 2006 Brier en route to a silver medal performance at the worlds that year.

With Stoughton's curling career, by his own admission, nearing its conclusion, the 11-time Manitoba champion was asked yesterday if he's come to terms with the possibility that today might be the last meaningful game he ever plays at the Brier.

"No, not yet," Stoughton replied. "Right now, I'm still hoping to play two (today) and one more in the final on Sunday."

Mead, who has openly pondered retiring if his team doesn't win the Brier on Sunday and earn the right to return in 2015 as Team Canada, said he's good with whatever happens this weekend.

"If somebody had told me I'd have even gone to one of these things -- I've so over-achieved in my career in my head compared to where I thought I would get," said Mead. "Oh my God, by miles. I'm so lucky -- it just sent shivers up my spine thinking about everything I've been a part of." Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2014 C4


Updated on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 2:35 PM CST: adds sidebar

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