LONDON, ONT. — Jeff Stoughton dominated every team he had faced this week, until he finally ran into someone good.
And once that happened at the Tim Hortons Brier Tuesday night -- once a steady round-robin diet of P.E.I.s and New Brunswicks and NWTs and Nova Scotias had finally given way to Ontario's Glenn Howard -- well, suddenly the dominator was the dominated as Stoughton marked his first loss of this event with a 7-4 defeat at the hands of Howard.
Stoughton put up a good fight against Howard for two ends, highlighted by his triple takeout in the second end that bailed his Manitoba foursome out of what was looking like big trouble.
But that was as good as it got on this night as Stoughton crashed last-rock draw attempts in each of the next two ends, surrendering a deuce in the third and then a steal of two more in the fourth to spot Howard a 4-0 lead.
A team can overcome that kind of deficit against P.E.I., maybe even New Brunswick. But against a three-time world champion like Howard, it's game over. And so it was, as Stoughton fought back to make the game 5-4, but the final outcome was somehow never in doubt.
Stoughton, however, had some fight in him after the game in the media scrum. Asked if we were to read anything into the fact that he lost the first time he played a team above .500 this week, Stoughton reached for the sarcasm.
"Yeah, we don't have a chance against them," he chortled, before getting serious. "We're certainly not going to dwell on it. I'm sure we'll talk about it a little bit and then get ready for Saskatchewan, I believe it is, (today)."
It is not, to be sure, the end of the world. With a 6-1 record heading into today, Stoughton is tied with Howard and Alberta's Kevin Martin for first place and, barring some dramatic collapse, looks like he'll be in the playoff mix come the weekend.
But the manner of the Manitoba loss -- and the fact it came so convincingly the first time Manitoba faced a serious challenger here -- could be cause for concern.
It was all a cold slap of reality for a Stoughton team that had been having its way until Tuesday night with a steady diet of doormats served up by the schedule maker. Including a 10-4 win over NWT's Jamie Koe earlier on Tuesday, Stoughton had outscored his first six opponents 54-23 and had done it in just 48 ends.
Ontario represented both the first team Manitoba had played that actually boasted a winning record and also the first time that Manitoba had played a 10th end in this event.
And the challenges will just keep coming for Stoughton now. Manitoba gets this morning off before returning to the ice this afternoon against Saskatchewan's Pat Simmons (4-3) and then tonight against the 1,000-pound gorilla of this field, Alberta's Martin.
Martin rattled off a pair of wins Tuesday -- a come-from-behind 9-7 thriller over Nova Scotia followed by a routine 7-5 defeat of Quebec -- to begin a new winning streak after Newfoundland's Brad Gushue snapped Martin's 30-game Brier streak on Monday night.
With his team down 5-2 to Nova Scotia and in danger of losing two straight, Martin said he gave his teammates a scolding at the fifth-end break that seemed to reignite the fire.
"I was totally honest with what I saw coming and what I saw," said Martin. "And to me, that's all you can do. No point in putting sugar on it, might as well say exactly what I'm thinking."